Touchscreen technology is great for youngsters? Do not believe the hype

When the National Literacy Trust announces that tablet computers aid disadvantaged children to read through, liberal-minded guide lovers like me sit up and listen.

The NLT published research suggesting that “touchscreen technological innovation can be far more efficient in engaging young children aged 3 to five with studying than books”, and that these effects are amplified in minimal-income households. But study amongst the lines, and a rather diverse story emerges.

The research is a collaboration with Pearson, the giant multinational currently extending its corporate tentacles into each factor of training, from policy to curriculum to assets to testing. The NLT has often had hyperlinks with commerce: it was founded by Sir Simon Hornby, chairman of WH Smith. But at least back then its curiosity lay in advertising the offering of books. The Trust is now element-funded by Pearson, which aims to make digital products and providers 70% of its revenue by 2015.

As a result the cosy connotations of “literacy” and “trust” are here being used as a Trojan horse to introduce the very technologies that are killing reading and creating. Digital and on-line technological innovation is fragmenting our interest spans and demolishing the publishing sector.

For the most element, the media has dutifully run with the headline findings about literacy and inequality, cheerleading massive business’s exploitation of poverty as a fig leaf for market place expansion. But these headlines are derived from marginal and contradictory data. The majority of the report demonstrates the enduring primacy of books. Kids are a lot more very likely to enjoy stories in books than stories on a screen. Young children are 34 occasions more most likely to read through storybooks day-to-day than stories on tablets daily. Youngsters are 4 times a lot more probably to study stories in a guide for far more than thirty minutes. Children are far more probably to study stories on tablets on their very own, losing out on the huge advantages of reading with a parent.

In March this year, the NLT and Pearson carried out a related review of children’s use of technology, and produced equivalent claims about the prospective for touchscreen gadgets to bridge social divides. But the real findings demonstrated the opposite: all round, kids who only read through stories in books had been a lot more most likely to exceed literacy expectations at age 5 than people who also read stories on screens.

Tellingly, seven months on, diverse criteria have been used to measure literacy. Rather of studying, writing and speaking – the commonsense definition of literacy – this time the review has used something referred to as the British Image Vocabulary Scale (BPVS), which measures a child’s potential to hear a word and level to the corresponding image on a flashcard. This is not a test of literacy, and has absolutely nothing to do with reading. The BPVS is derived from the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Check, developed by – yes, you guessed it – Pearson.

New technologies can make amnesiacs of us all, so it can generate the circumstances for its very own obvious necessity. “Tablets and touchscreen technologies could be vital,” says the NLT, “to engage new readers”. At this rate, we’ll soon overlook that youngsters were ever in a position to discover to go through and create employing such Luddite props as books, pens and paper.

When my 5-yr-old son picks up a smartphone and commences jabbing and swiping with the “hectic fervour of a starving puppy unleashed in a meat locker”, as Jennifer Egan so aptly describes it in A Pay a visit to From the Goon Squad, my heart sinks. His instinctive mastery of the touchscreen interface creates a outstanding illusion of manage. But there is anything deeply disempowering about this hermetically sealed object that he can never effectively realize. Let’s not overlook that the moguls of Silicon Valley send their youngsters to Waldorf-Steiner schools, exactly where they play with junk modelling in the open air and are not allowed to use personal computers, even at residence. The guys who style our devices know that children need to have to understand about the world from 1st concepts. They need to have to check out with their hands and do sums in their heads.

And my heart sinks due to the fact these smartphones and tablets are a royal road to 24/7 purchasing, commercially made content and personalised marketing. If it is correct, as we are advised by some researchers, that internet addiction is not a “real” addiction, why is it that I can barely compose a paragraph of this post with no Googling Christmas presents?

Touchscreen technology is currently being rolled out regardless of the absence of conclusive study suggesting it improves attainment, and in the face of lots of study, including very essential analysis of the A single Laptop Per Youngster programme in the building globe, indicating it is detrimental. Optimistic studies are invariably supported by industrial interests: the “charity” Tablets for Colleges is part-funded by the not too long ago merged Carphone Warehouse and Dixons. Other partners consist of Google, Virgin Media, Pearson, Samsung and TalkTalk.

Meanwhile we go through day-to-day accounts of cyber-bullying, trolling, depression, suicide, program pre-teen publicity to hardcore pornography, on-line grooming, which includes the latest case of the murdered teenager, Breck Bednar, and kids sitting alone in their bedrooms staring at a screen. But none of it appears to dent the argument that we need to accept screen technology simply because that is the way the planet is going. What’s concealed is the fact that the rising prominence of new engineering in children’s lives is the end result of a hugely coordinated lobbying effort, and it downplays human judgment and decision – the level, following all, of schooling.

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