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Young students shouldn't use PCs, scientist claims


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 14 Jun 2010 at 13:20

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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User comments

"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"

The above statement is presumptive of the type of software being used. There are many examples of poorly devised software that do have this issue, but there is also well designed educational software that has both breadth and depth and do encourage concentration.

By skarlock on 14 Jun 2010

Well, yeah, but the software that has "breadth and depth and encourages concentration" is basically limited to projecting a block of text on the screen. Anything more interactive is shown to reduce concentration and encourage superficial jumping between sources.

It's a situation where you can use IT but there are much easier ways to do it, like just putting paper in front of children in a classroom.

By steviesteveo on 14 Jun 2010

Seems like a more solid Anti-Wii argument to me

If you want to stop the "dumbing down" of technology and children, get rid of the consoles first. The PC's at least create useful skills.

Watch THIS video

The blonde girl in the black top is the most disturbing...

By cheysuli on 14 Jun 2010


She's looking at a screen and she's just holding a neutral expression. You can hear gunfire, I don't think a face splitting grin would have been less disturbing.

By steviesteveo on 14 Jun 2010

I don't think toddlers and very young children should be using PC's at school for a whole number of reasons, (that the last government intended to force 22 month old toddlers in front of a PC is, frankly, horrifying) but I'm not sure what you want us to see in that video cheysuli.

The way the video is shot, with the children staring deeply ahead and directly into a camera, (and therefore straight at us, the viewer) is always going to give a strange and slightly unnerving effect as that's not normally how people look at us.

Try videoing yourself or your husband/wife/child working on the PC from the same angle and see how comfortable the results look, and then how normal it looks when filmed from the side, which would be our normal perspective...

By Mr_John_T on 14 Jun 2010

Oh come on people, this isn't news. It isn't even new.

We've known for decades that activities designed to provide instant and constant stimulation through short burst activity cause a decrease in attention span.

This is basic child psych 101. Children get used to performing short bouts of activity and getting instant reward/reaction/gratification from it and so they learn to associate this short cycle with progress.

Thus when confronted with a longer activity, or one which doesn't match this short burst cycle they become bored and/or disinterested.

A child who reads a book and gets their gratification at the end of a chapter, or the book, learns the opposite. Thus they learn to focus their attention for longer and do not loose interest when they do not achieve an instant reaction.

skarlock implies that only poorly written educational software is like this. Well, unfortunately, this is not true. MOST educational software is purposefully designed to be like this. Most of the best and highest rated software is deliberately like this, and the software that isn't like this is usually based on encyclopedia like tracts of text, or long task which, frankly, can be performed using a pen and paper/textbook.

If you look at countries with a good track record on education, such as Japan and China (regarding which I am speaking form personal experience) tend to encourage children to develop long attention spans and not to expect instant gratification. They use less PC time and more book time and as a result you can walk into any bog university in the US or England and find that their science, engineering and mathematics course are stuffed full of non native Asians.

Instant gratification kills the attention span.

Old news.

By Perfectblue97 on 15 Jun 2010

Adults too

As an adult I find that at work I can go long periods without reward. The rewards are things like project milestones, bugs fixed, company meetings with colleagues, anything that gives a sense of achievement. If a project has no such breakpoints in it, it becomes desperately dull, and work becomes a drag. If we do that to children, by making them go too far between rewards, we are teaching them something that we as adults would not tolerate.

By fogtax on 18 Jun 2010

Preconditioned already

No doubt progressive education is responsible for such sentiments. Why, you get your reward every 30 days, on average. It is called the wages. There goes depth again ...

By arichter on 19 Jun 2010

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