Children now have a wider access to technological resources than ever before. The availability and cost for personal toys and devices, at home and in the school environment mean that today’s children are fast exceeding the skill set of their parents and grandparents. But is exposure to all this technology from such an early age affecting their development and long term capabilities?
Now, we’re not even just talking about iPads and mobile phones here (we will get to that in a second) but take a moment to consider the impact of the humble calculator on the last few generations. Invented in the 1960s, the availability of a handheld calculator (now available on mobile phones too) has revolutionised mathematics, making calculations quick and easy for everyone. However, over the last 30 years, there has been a sharp decline in maths skills, as reported by The Independent in 2012. The BBC reported in 2013 that “…there are 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland with the numeracy levels of a 10-year-old.” National Numeracy has more data on this issue. So what has resulted in this decline? Could it be down to the increase in the use of items such as the calculator? Children are able to use technology to solve a problem without having to consider the process. Think about it – Google can now answer your maths problem for you almost immediately. The need to learn and remember how is becoming obsolete.
This applies to literacy skills as well. Dictionaries and thesauruses are remaining on the shelf in favour of automatic spell checking software available on all mobile phones and computers. Learning disabilities charity Mencap reported in 2012 that “… access to technology has contributed to an “auto correct generation”, with many Britons now failing to spell commonly used words.” As with solving maths problems, Google, as well as a whole host of online dictionaries and resources, can quickly and accurately confirm the correct spelling of a word.
This all sounds rather troublesome. However, there are arguments for the use of technology in stimulating learning in children, rather than hindering it.
Children’s toy giant Vtech for example thrives on its range of educational toys from laptops, to tablets, toys to teach the alphabet, spelling and watches to teach telling the time. iPads too are helping children problem solve, improve coordination skills and spark imagination using a wide range of educational apps and games available to download for free or for a small cost. Currently, out of the Top 5 free apps for children aged 5 and under from the Apple Store, 3 are categorised as educational. This does reduce for children aged 6-11 however, in favour of non-education games and entertainment apps, but a minimum of 1 educational app remains.
With this is mind and with the increasing reliance on technology in the workplace, the question arises as to whether children will fall behind when compared to their peers in the future, if technology isn’t introduced to them at an early stage?
Ultimately, this debate seems to come down to separate skills, their uses and relevance in our day to day lives, rather than whether technology should be given to children or not. Spelling, numeracy and the ability to use the internet and devices such as tablets and mobile phones all seem essential for adult success. Striking a balance between learning methods and the importance of each skill seems to be a viable solution to allow children to benefit from technology without it undermining the value of their other skills.