Here’s an interesting article sent in by Richard Giles. It is written by Sue Palmer who writes and speaks about child development and education in the modern world. Her concerns mirror those in a previous post Baroness Susan Greenfield on IT’s impacts on children.
Have you been in a primary school classroom recently? Did you notice that a large white screen has replaced the old-fashioned blackboard? And have you any idea how much of the day the children spend staring at it? In the classrooms I’ve visited, the ‘interactive whiteboard’ features in almost every lesson. Children sit, with blank zoned-out faces, staring at brightly coloured shapes and figures zooming around the screen.
Add to this daily dose of screen-based education many hours of extra-curricular screen-time. Recent surveys of children’s leisure time suggest they spend between five and six hours a day on TV and DVD-watching, computer gaming, web-surfing, MSNing and social networking.
In a screen-saturated society, many British youngsters now spend more time staring at flat, flashing rectangles than they spend in the real world, engaging with real people. At home this means they’re not hanging out with their parents, learning life skills through example, or playing out with their friends, learning independence and social skills. And in school, this means they’re spending less time reading real books and writing for real purposes than ever before.
So no wonder the eminent neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has expressed concern that this sudden change in children’s lifestyles might interfere with the development of their brains. As she says, ‘We cannot park our children in front of screens and expect them to develop a long attention span.’ She’s particularly worried about the effects of technology on children’s literacy skills.
‘Language reflects the sequential nature of human thought,’ she says. ‘So learning to read helps children learn to put ideas into logical order. On the other hand, staring at a screen puts their brains into suspended animation, staring at images just there for the moment. Facts don’t hook up with each other into ideas and meaning.’
Dr Aric Sigman is another worried scientist. As a psychologist who specializes in how technology affects human learning patterns, he’s amassed a huge database of research linking children’s screen-based activity to ADHD, autism and emotional and behavioural disorders. He too points to the conflict between screen-based activity and reading.
“As children engage in more screen activity, they definitely read less – and the effect is likely to be permanent. Screen activity prevents children from having to infer, to paint pictures using words alone. And unlike screen images, words don’t move, make noises, sing or dance. Just because adults revere ‘multitasking’ and divided attention doesn’t mean this is beneficial for the developing child who must first master sustained attention before he can go on to divide it up between windows on a screen. Ultimately, screen images render the printed word simply boring, at a crucial phase when the child’s
brain and mind are developing.”