The Malta Independent 15 July 2024, Monday
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Do children need pencils or tablets?

Malta Independent Saturday, 7 December 2013, 10:15 Last update: about 11 years ago

The results of a new survey by an online guide to nurseries,, show that parents should protect their young ones from what has been termed as "technology creep" which sees devices such as tablets being used in nursery schools.

Only one in four (26%) believe that it is beneficial for youngster to use ICT in their early years.  Davina Ludlow, director of, said, “Children are increasingly exposed to an overwhelming amount of technology at an early age.”  She worried that electronic devices such as tablets were “displacing the traditional methods of learning and play activities”.

“This poll shows that the majority of people clearly want to see early education and childhood play protected from this technological creep,” she added. 

Before voting on whether it is beneficial for children to use ICT in nurseries, respondents where given pro and cons arguments by two field experts.  


ICT can be detrimental

An increasing number of nurseries have got interactive boards and computers whilst a small but growing number have even gone as far as buying tablets for their children to use.

However, literacy expert, author and former head teacher, Sue Palmer believes too much early exposure to screen-based technology can be detrimental and makes it more difficult for children to learn to read and write.

She says, “I think what children really need up to the age of seven is real life in real space and real time, which means three dimensional experiences.  There is a real fear that too much engagement with this quick fix technology is making it more difficult for some children to learn to read and write. Learning to read and write is not easy. It is a long, slow process. “

“We already have problems with children not being able to hold a pen or pencil. But we are giving our kids instant gratification all the time with ICT and it makes it harder for them to persevere with something that takes a while to learn.”

Many nurseries are going down the route of using interactive books with the children but Ms Palmer also believes that this is a mistake.  She claims that “interactive books is forgetting what reading is all about” and adds “Reading involves learning to process sequential text – narrative – and it gives us the capacity to think sequentially.”

“But interactive books are making reading into a visual, non-linear experience. Not only that, but children don’t have to make sense of the narrative and make pictures in their heads like they do with normal books.  Children now spend so much of their time screen gazing. Of course they like new digital technology such as tablets. They provide immediate gratification.”

Proponents of ICT in the early years argue we are living in a digital world and children who do not have access to digital technology will be disadvantaged.  However Ms Palmer disagrees with this as she says, “Any digital skills that pre-school children learn will be out of date by the time they are teenagers.  I think the real digital divide is going to be between children who have had real life experiences and grow up able to make use of technology and control it for their own purposes and those who have been indulged and kept quiet with this digital stuff and are under its control.”

“I do not think that not having access to digital technology in their early years will put children at a disadvantage to those who have been exposed to it…  This digital technology is great stuff for grown-ups but it is not appropriate for kids.”


New technologies make learning easier and fun


John Siraj-Blatchford argues that there is substantial research evidence supporting the use of ICT in early childhood.  “I am keen to promote the use of mobile touch screen technologies in early childhood because all the evidence points to it being the most appropriate for young children in terms of accessibility, and even more importantly in terms of play based pedagogy,” he says.

“Throughout the UK, greater emphasis has rightly been placed on the importance of the outdoor learning environment for young children and this is sometimes presented as compensation for ‘toxic’ influences upon early childhood that include ICT.  It is even suggested at times that ICT and outdoor play may in some fundamental sense be logically inconsistent.  Yet such a case could only really be argued if one were to first assume that all ICTs were associated with desktop computers. This is demonstrably not the case.”

“As adults we interact with a wide range of ICTs outdoors, and many of these may be applied for educational purposes.  Laptop computers have rechargeable batteries and may even have wireless Internet connections.  Metal detectors, traffic lights and mobile telephones provide additional examples of ICTs that have been applied effectively in a range of preschool settings,” he adds.

“There is a good deal of scope for the integration of ICT in young children’s outdoor play environments.  In fact, ICT is as much part of children’s world (indoors and outdoors) as literacy and numeracy, or indeed any other feature of the complex worlds in which we live and struggle to make sense of.”

Advocates of ICT in the early years claim children without access to ICT will be disadvantaged.  However, Dr Siraj-Blatchford is sceptical of this argument as he says, “Good technology is intuitive and shouldn't require extended training or experience to gain proficiency so children can catch up on that - technology is also changing all the time and new users often leap frog over established users of old technologies.”

“But overwhelming evidence shows that a real 'divide' in terms of learning and development is significantly disadvantaging many children.  It is a literacy divide and caused by major differences in the quality of the early language and literacy environment they grow up in.  New technologies have significant potential in improving language environments for these disadvantaged children.”

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