It has been just eight years since the first iPad was released. And in that time the device has taken the world by storm, making its way into family homes, shops, workplaces, nurseries and classrooms. Apple has pushed for iPad’s inclusion as an educational technology in schools, and with success: in 2014 alone American K-12 schools spent an estimated $9.94 billion, or approximately a third of their technology budgets, on computer devices such as iPads, while in the U.K. approximately a quarter of a billion pounds is spent every year on computers and associated software in schools. But education experts claim this amount could pay the wages of more than 8,000 teachers or build 40 secondary schools in the country, and question the spending of such a seemingly unjustifiable sum of money in an era of austerity. Others believe the costs incurred by adopting iPads in schools are not only financial – but also physical and psychological for students, with screen time displacing important face-to-face social interactions, physical activity, time spent outdoors, and time spent being forced to entertain oneself. Advocates of iPads, on the other hand, believe children need to be engaging with the technologies they will be using in their adult life.
So, what is the answer? To iPad or not to iPad?
Let’s first explore the conclusions drawn by professionals on the subject, including graduates with IT leadership degrees. Recent studies have concluded that iPads can have a positive influence on a child’s learning. One research study conducted in Maine, U.S., showed that Kindergarten students using iPads scored much higher on literacy tests than students who didn’t use the device, while another California-based study showed students using iPads saw a 20 percent increase in their math test scores in one year compared to students using traditional textbooks. Another study which focused on the iPad game ‘Motion Math’ showed iPads can help with fundamental math skills. It demonstrated that fifth graders who regularly played the game for 20 minutes a day over a five-day period increased their math test scores by 15 percent on average, in the long-term.
But despite these findings we are still a long way from understanding what the consequences of using iPads might be for a child’s cognitive development. Neuroscientists are still in disagreement over the impact iPads have on the nature, function or behavior of mirror neurons in humans and this fuels the concerns of parents who are against the use of iPads in the primary classroom, claiming them to be distracting, financially burdensome and responsible for the displacement of learning among other things.
The reasons against iPad use by schoolchildren are vast.
First of all, iPads have been criticized for taking away from other vital lessons children ought to be learning at school such as the development of social skills, teamwork, creative development and physical skills. The reason is this: even when sharing a device with others, children using iPads are essentially locked into their own virtual worlds, unaware of what is going on around them and unchallenged by their surrounds. Some educators believe time spent using iPads takes away from time that could be spent playing outdoors, using the imagination to play games or simply conversing with one another. The device has also been slated for its ‘pacification’ properties, with scientists saying using iPads to entertain or pacify otherwise restless or bored children could harm their development.
The second argument against iPads is that they add to the financial problems of the education system. Let’s face it – iPads don’t come cheap. Beyond the initial cost price of roughly $650 they also require ongoing maintenance and many upgrades over the years, if not replacement. Once all this is taken into account, it’s easy to see that investment in iPad technology significantly diverts funding away from other resources such as teachers’ salaries. Taking this a step further, making iPads a necessity in the classroom also furthers socio-economic inequalities – particularly if parents are forced to pay for such technologies.
iPads are also criticized as a potential distraction since they are more commonly associated with entertainment than education, with students often seeing iPads as a “fun” gaming environment rather than an educational one. Think about it, do we really believe students will stick to task or admit to having finished if there is a chance they are able to keep quiet and play a game on their iPad instead? The fact that iPads can connect to the internet adds a potential source of temptation for curious children. Multitasking is highly prevalent when it comes to screen technology, which goes on to hinder academic performance.
Despite all this, iPads can prove highly useful in terms of keeping students motivated and excited about their learning, enabling them to access new learning materials and internet resources instantly. The ease and speed of use on iPads enable them to deliver lessons and exercises quicker than ever before possible in the classroom without teachers having to hand out worksheets, expend energy on explaining concepts or come up with interesting exercises for students. The touch interface and app system on the iPad makes it easy to use, with in-built AV tools allowing endless possibilities in terms of teaching across any subject. iPads come with apps designed specifically for developing a range of skills: focused on drawing, editing, creating movies, photo stories, ebooks, animation, music composition and more – enabling students to experiment with new skills in more interesting ways than traditionally possible.
Ipads also enable children to learn and progress at their own pace rather than having to wait for peers to catch up as required in the traditional classroom setting. Having a personal iPad in the classroom shifts the learning from teacher-centred to child-centred allowing students the chance to work at their own pace without having to wait for further instructions from the teacher. In this respect, iPads can provide teachers with the tools to differentiate between every level of student – something usually very difficult in classes of varied skill levels.
The youth of today are incredibly tech-savvy – that cannot be denied. Between having multiple social media accounts, personal websites, access to virtual private networks and such advanced web knowledge they are able to source almost anything from the internet they wish – from essay writing services to drugs – Post Millenials have been born into the era of technology. But studies show children are consuming far too much technology today: up to 18 hours per day for teenagers aged 13 to 18 in fact, with almost all children having used a computer or tablet before the age of two. In light of this, perhaps the development of technological skills in the classroom is now redundant and we should rather be focusing on developing basic social and life skills in children, such as changing a car tire, cooking healthy food, conversation skills and practicing civic responsibility. iPads certainly bring something unique to the classroom and can help students where traditional education has failed them – but only if used in moderation rather than as the primary learning tool.