Young students shouldn't use PCs, scientist claims

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Multitasking and screen-based learning could hurt the ability to hold attention for longer periods

A psychologist has criticised the use of computers in primary and nursery schools, saying premature exposure to technology can cause long-term damage to children's learning ability.

ICT is increasingly used in schools at younger ages, but computer use among early learners can impair concentration, according Dr Aric Sigman - the same psychologist who previously wrote about the affects of social networking, sparking the Daily Mail's “Facebook causes cancer” headline.

I'm not anti-technology, but it should be introduced to serve education as a tool and if it's done prematurely it can lead to cognitive problems

“One big issue is attention damage,” Sigman told PC Pro. “With screen based tools, children get a lot of breadth but no depth and they cannot sustain attention for longer periods, especially when it comes to less interactive materials like lessons or long texts.

“There's a real conflict between multitasking that you typically see in computer learning and sustained attention,” Sigman said. “These two skills cannot be developed at the same time and sustained attention must be the foundation for learning.”

The concept of forcing early learning institutions to encourage computer use in toddlers was laid out in plans for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). The previous government planned legislation that required children from as young as 22 months to “seek to acquire basic skills in turning on and operating some ICT equipment”.

Although a spokesperson for the Department of Education told PC Pro that the new government planned to scrap the EYFS, computer use among young children remains on the agenda. ”We'll keep existing primary policy until 2012 and until then the moves suggested by the EYFS remain on hold,” the spokesperson said.

According to Sigman, while computers have a major role in education they should not be introduced until children are at least five, and preferably older.

“I'm not anti-technology, but it should be introduced to serve education as a tool and if it's done prematurely it can lead to cognitive problems. It shouldn't be used for teaching children under five and ideally no younger than nine.”

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