Does technology really help children to learn?

Just a few years ago it was unthinkable that most school children in most secondary schools would have access to mobile devices that could access the internet easily and all at the same time. As schools have progressed towards having a device on every desk in every classroom there have been many debates about whether this kind of technology really does help children learn or whether it is just a very expensive gimmick.

Parents often question me about what part a pen still plays in the lives of children at school and, for me, a pen is still an absolutely vital piece of equipment. Using a pen is quicker and more versatile than any kind of electronic device and so at school we still place great emphasis on developing good pen grip and handwriting styles. Besides which, all-electronic exams still seem some time off; exam boards have laid the groundwork for this switch from paper-based exams to on-screen but until every school and exam centre can access reliable and secure technology that just won’t happen.

There are several ways in which mobile devices, and particularly tablets, can genuinely help children learn more and learn faster. For a start there is the simple fact that the tablet gives each child their own access to the internet and all the myriad of information it stores. Then there are apps which will capture data in science experiments, making analysis and conclusions much faster, more accurate and more clearly understood.  Many teachers are now using tablets to scan pupils’ work and then make an audio and visual recording of themselves marking the work. This becomes an equivalent of having the teacher sitting next to you and giving you direct feedback. And then there is technology that will enable learning that could never have happened in the past. The Google Expedition equipment allows pupils to experience 3D virtual reality, walking along ridges and across rivers as they explore far off landscapes that they otherwise would never have visited.

But does this mean that technology actually helps children to learn? It is certainly true that technology helps children learn things that previously would not have learnt but in my view the main benefit of using technology in the classroom and as a study tool is that it is fun and interesting. Given the choice of pen and paper or a tablet, children generally find the tablet more stimulating and motivating. Using technology for study helps pupils organise and present their work to a far higher standard and with higher standards comes pride and better self-esteem.

There is quite a lot of nonsense written about preparing children for 21st skills and jobs that don’t exist yet. What is certainly true is that the ability to get the most from up-to-the-minute technology in terms of learning, organising, presenting and communicating is a set of skills schools are quite right to focus on.