In March 2014, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) organised a meeting on using computer tablets in the classroom.
I left the meeting really enthused and eager to integrate this technology into my teaching. I believe it’s one of the most exciting developments for teaching that we have seen in the last 30 years.
The driver behind the debate we brought to the conference came from phone calls we received from teachers raising concerns that some pupils were presenting with irritability, poor concentration spans and poor performance.
They enquired whether we had heard from any other teachers with similar concerns. This piqued our interest and we decided to call for some research to be carried out to see if there was an actual problem.
Teachers have already raised concerns about some pupils who spend most of the night playing computer games, and whose attention span is so limited they may as well not be in class, or the pupils who wander around at break or lunch glued to their smartphones.
When a number of nursery teachers expressed concerns over some of their pupils able to swipe a screen, but who cannot socialise with other pupils or engage in other aspects of guided play, we felt it important to carry out research to see how widespread this concern was.
OFCOM’s report in October 2013 had stated that household ownership of tablet computers had more than doubled from 20 per cent in 2012 to 51 per cent and this will increase.
Prominent scientists and researchers have stated that research into the effects of computer tablet use is in its infancy and that until we know more, parents can only follow their own parenting instincts.
As a leading teaching union we would agree and would be loath to give the impression that we are against tablets or indeed any technological innovation which might benefit teachers and pupils alike.
We do not want to deprive our pupils of access to computer tablets.
We do want to protect them from withdrawal, poor performance and loss of educational opportunities.
We are not advocating a ban on devices. We are not stating there are medical risks.
We are highlighting rising concerns of social isolation, of decreasing attention span and of over-reliance on a computer tablet.
We hope to gather evidence from ATL’s members, education authorities and medical practitioners to see if there actually may be a problem and, if necessary, to provide guidance for teachers to recognise the signs of ‘tablet addiction’ and the steps they could take to support pupils who are showing symptoms.
Colin Kinney is a school teacher in Northern Ireland and branch secretary for ATL Northern Ireland. He can be contacted on 028 9078 2020.