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‘Technology for toddlers’ scheme risks creating a screen-addict generation

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From The Times
May 3, 2008
Alexandra Frean, Education Editor

Targets for “toddler technology” skills laid down by the Government, which will require children to master basic computer skills by the age of 4 and understand how to use a television remote control, pose serious risks to child development, experts have said.

Aric Sigman, a psychologist and author of Remotely Controlled, said that the Government’s new early years curriculum, which requires underfives to be taught on computers, risked creating a generation of screen addicts.

Exposure to screen technology during key stages of child development may have counter-productive effects on cognitive processes and learning, particularly language development and competency in reading and maths, Dr Sigman said.

“Legally requiring the introduction of screen technology to 20 to 60-month-old children is likely to lead to even higher levels of daily screen viewing. Early introduction to ICT [information and communications technology] is likely to lead to a greater lifetime dependency on screens,” he said.

The Government’s new early years curriculum, known as the EFYS (Early Years Foundation Stage), will become statutory in all nurseries and childcare settings in England from September. It sets out specific computer-related tasks for underfives.

From the age of 22 months children should “show an interest in ICT. Seek to acquire basic skills in turning on and operating some ICT equipment.” From 30 months schools should “draw young children’s attention to pieces of ICT apparatus they see or they use with adult supervision”.

From 40 months children should “Complete a simple program on a computer. Use ICT to perform simple functions such as selecting a channel on the TV remote control. Use a mouse and keyboard to interact with age-appropriate computer software.”

These goals are set against a background of growing use of IT in state schools at all ages. Dr Sigman said that there was increasing evidence to suggest that this approach carried substantial risks. Supposedly educational DVDs and computer programs were very often nothing of the sort, he said.

He cited a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics, which found that the use of such software produced no positive effects on children under 2 and might retard language development.

“Scientists [have] found that for every hour per day spent watching specially developed baby DVDs and videos such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, children under 16 months understood an average of six to eight fewer words than children who did not watch them,” he said.

He observed the emergence of a “video deficit” phenomenon whereby young children who have no trouble understanding a task demonstrated in real life often stumble when the same task is shown on screen.Exposure to television and computer games over a long period might also have long-term consequences on children’s ability to concentrate.

Richard House, senior lecturer in psychotherapy and counselling at Roehampton University, said that there was no compelling evidence to support the Government’s view that screen-based learning was good for very young children.

“One would think the Government must have had convincing evidence for incorporating computer and screen technology into legislation that is legally binding for all nursery or child care settings, but none exists,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Families and Schools said it was not mandatory for children to achieve all the learning goals. “The EYFS says that most – though not all – children should have the chance to find out about everyday technology through their play,” she said.

What little surfers will have to know

The Government’s computer literacy goals for children aged 22-36 months
— Acquire basic skills in turning on and operating some ICT equipment
— Talk with carer about what it does, what they can do with it and how to use it safely
— Use the photocopier to copy their own pictures and other equipment such as karaoke machines

Children aged 30-50 months
— Know how to operate simple equipment

Children aged 40-60 months
— Complete a simple computer program
— Use ICT to perform simple functions, such as selecting a channel on TV remote control
— Use a mouse and keyboard to interact with age-appropriate computer software
— Find out about and identify the uses of everyday information and communication technology and use it together with programmable toys to support learning. Click on icons to cause things to happen in a computer program

Oh my God, surely some mistake? This is ludicrous. Just when I return to the UK from teaching overseas and hope that the government are leaving education alone. Learning to compute is not difficult and can be mastered at any age. Let them climb trees and graze their knees...the kids that it!
chris, Bagshot, UK

For the past 20 years everyone has been complaining that children spend too much time in front of TVs/computers and game consoles and now the government thinks it is necessary to "teach" skills which obviously up to now children were perfectly able to acquire themselves...
Adrian, London, UK

This is just mind-boggling. So what if a family has no TV on principle? They will be the target of Social Services for 'child abuse' or for hindering the child's development?
Kay, Worcester,

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