THE technology revolution in schools has been thrown into doubt by the government’s new school behaviour tsar, who believes children should be kept away from iPads for as long as possible.
Tom Bennett, head of a working party to guide teachers on improving conduct in class, said the widespread adoption of tablets was having unhelpful effects, with pupils misusing them “to surf the net, find photos of Kim Kardashian and Jessie J and hurl online insults at each other”.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said: “Schools are increasingly giving kids iPads, even primary schools. I am not a fan of that. There is absolutely no research evidence that giving kids technology helps them learn.”
Bennett, who was appointed to the role in June, added: “Some people say, ‘Give kids iPads because they love them and then they will love learning too.’ No, kids love iPads, that’s all. From my point of view they are used far too often as a pacifier by teachers who can’t control classes.”
Tens of millions of pounds have been spent by schools on iPads. Tablets are used in more than two-thirds of schools, with one in ten supplying them to all pupils, according to a study carried out last year.
Other research found that in a sample of secondary schools where every pupil had a tablet computer, four in ten children said they sometimes thought they were “addicted” to the internet, and two-thirds took a computer or smartphone to bed with them.
“I don’t think any kid needs an iPad. Kids are kids; they will see things you don’t want them to see,” he said.
Bennett, a father of one who taught in London’s East End for a decade, said parents must be firm enough to say no when pestered to buy an iPad or if children were using it inappropriately.
“One of the tragedies of this age is children coming to class shattered because they have been up all night playing computer games and Facebooking on their iPad,” he said.
“I speak to the parents and say, ‘Your child is very tired in class.’ They say, ‘I don’t know what to do. He stays up on his iPad all hours’.
“I say, ‘This is a 12-year-old we are talking about — you are the parents. Take it off him.’ ”
Bennett, who also leads ResearchEd, an organisation that aims to use research to improve teaching, said a “real crisis of adult authority” had developed. “We have forgotten how to be the bosses of children for their own good,” he said.
“What age should children be allowed to have an iPad? Any age you feel comfortable with them viewing porn while you are in the same house — in other words, when they are adults. I wouldn’t drop a child off in Soho at 2am, so why let a child have online Soho in their bedroom?”
Bennett even believes there is “absolutely no reason” for a child to have access to the worldwide web. “As for the idea that toddlers should be given iPads — kill me now!”
He also criticised teachers who tell pupils to use the search engine Google to do their homework. “A lot of teachers will say to kids, ‘Go and research the Egyptians for homework, use Google.’ It’s like giving them a library with no librarian. The internet is full of mistakes. Teachers have the job of pointing kids to the best stuff that has been written on the subject they are teaching.
“They need to issue reading lists. If you give kids a research task you have to say, ‘Read this chapter in this book.’ Don’t just let them loose on the internet and say, ‘Google it.’ They’ll just come back with a movie clip.”
Bennett said that research into the “hole in the wall” experiments of Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, suggested that technology would not live up to its initial promise as an educational tool. Mitra installed a computer in a hole in a wall in a slum in India for children to use.
“Professor Mitra argued that by giving poor kids computers, they would be able to teach themselves to read,” Bennett said. “But when a researcher went to see all the holes in the wall, he found they had been torn apart. The ones that were left were dominated by the big boys.”
According to Besa, an educational suppliers’ organisation, £250m a year is being spent on computers in schools, and some are asking parents to spend hundreds of pounds on buying their child an iPad.
Emma Mulqueeny, a mother of two teenagers, said she had been asked for £300 to buy a school iPad because teachers would use the tablet to give children homework and for classroom exercises.
“It is with gritted teeth that I will buy my daughter an iPad next term, just so that she doesn’t feel embarrassed,” said Mulqueeny.