The internet can a powerful part of
children’s learning, but are digital distractions undermining GCSE results?
Richard Newson, considers the impact of screen time.
Most parents observe the ease and
eagerness with which their children engage with laptops, games consoles and
mobile phones with considerable misgivings.
Online grooming, sexting and
cyberbullying plague the online world – and children are vulnerable.
But alongside these worries is a more
general concern that the distractions of digital devices are undermining their
child’s education. But are these worries grounded in fact?
by the National Children’s Bureau
in Northern Ireland looked at precisely this question. It explored how a cohort
of 14 to 16 year olds were using ICT (that’s Information Communication
Technology for anyone born in the previous millennium) and how this related to
their GCSE exam results.
The findings are surprising.
For a start, while excessive gaming is
closely linked with poor exam results, the research showed no link between
intensive use of social networking platforms and poor performance in GCSEs.
And let’s be clear – we are talking
about using a games console or portable games player at least a couple of times
per day. Only 41% of pupils who followed this pattern achieved five good GCSE
grades, compared to 77% of those who played games rarely.
Why this discrepancy between gaming and
social networking should occur is beyond the scope of this study but it does
indicate parents should be concerned about the extent of gaming. Particularly considering that other studies indicate
that low levels of gaming (less than one hour per day) can actually have a
positive impact on young people’s academic engagement compared to those to
those who do not play at all.
But while gaming is an issue, it is
important that all young people are encouraged to use their computer time, at
least in part, to do homework.
The NCB research found that four in 10
young people are online for over four hours per day in their GCSE year. But
that much of this time is spent on recreational
activities. 43% of young people spend less than an hour each day using a
computer for homework.
those pupils spending around three hours every day using a computer to do
homework achieved the best exam results, with 79% achieving five A* to C grades
in their GCSEs.
Given this, teachers
have a role in setting their pupils homework that require the use of computer. And
parents should be vigilant that their child establishes good online habits
(including being aware of e-safety) and that homework is done, rather than idle
should not forget the 5% of 14 to 16 year olds who have no computer access
whatsoever at home. These children fare considerably worse in education than
their peers and need the targeted support of policymakers if they are to avoid
being left behind in the digital age.
‘ICT and Me’ is available as both a report
and a video for young people at: www.ncb.org.uk/ictandme