Mobile devices boost learning but come with major drawbacks

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The march of technology has been so fast that few people feel that they have got to grips with what it means.

Twenty years ago the internet was unknown to all but a small number of computer users. A decade before that, in the mid 1980s, computers were in their infancy and their public use was mostly confined to computer games.

Now the internet is used widely, even among many elderly adults. Facebook and Twitter have tens of millions of users.

Newspapers such as this one, which dates back as a print edition to 1737, can print a newsflash on the website ( within moments of it happening.

There is no doubt that such technology can be a boon to learning. Even the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, which is often sneered at for its potential unreliability, and which can be edited in a biased way, is on the whole a stunning resource with tens of millions of pages of information written by experts or amateur enthusiasts on an almost limitless range of subjects for which no book could ever have had room.

Computers and the internet have been used in education since their inception, and rightly so. But there are accompanying problems, such as cheating and inappropriate material.

We report today on how a survey of teachers has highlighted concerns that the use of tablet computers is distracting children from doing homework. The study for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found that there was strong support for the use of such devices among teachers, but two-thirds of experienced teachers also felt there was a risk of pupils accessing inappropriate material in the classroom.

There is already an epidemic of pornography viewing among older children who are typically more tech savvy than their parents. The good news is that technology helps adults to stay one step ahead because new programmes are always coming on the market that can monitor misuse. But policing device usage while maintaining freedom will be a tricky balance that will engage governments and schools in the decades to come.