Opinion: In favor of tablets

POSTED: 07/17/13 1:14 PM

The debate about kids and new media is rumbling on. MP Johan Leonard wants a laptop for every school kid – the wet dream of every street robber come true – and teacher Renée Braams wants to take iPads and other electronic gadgets away from children during the summer vacation. Rian Visser, a writer of books for young children disagrees with Braams. She notes that after the vacation many children’s ability to read and do math goes down. There is an app for that: use new media, she argues. This is her opinion that appeared in the Volkskrant yesterday.

“People write a lot of nonsense about children and new media with the German researcher Alfred Spitzer as the absolute low. He is the author of the book Digital Dementia. Spitzer finds it child-abuse when young children are confronted with a computer screen. For adults it has been accepted a long time ago that they are looking at their smartphone or tablet, nonagenarians are in this digital era fitter than ever, but when it is about children, we are suddenly concerned.

Are children still playing outside? Is the computer or the tablet not damaging to the nerve system? Are they still able to concentrate? The answer is yes. Some children are able to concentrate much better with a digital book on a tablet.

A mother told me: “My son loves the books of the Gray Hunter when I read them to him, but he found them to large to read them himself. On a tablet he does not realize the size of the book and he reads it just like that.”

There are more examples. Children must be able to develop optimally. It is important that they read stories and that they are confronted with intellectual challenges. New media can play an important role in this process. For children that are behind with their language a tablet is suitable, because images and sound are combined. This way they understand a story better. Parents whose Dutch is lacking or who do not read are able to listen to digital books together with their children. Educational games are the perfect fit for children that are behind with their learning. I am tempted to say that it is child-abuse not to offer that opportunity to children.

Part of the aversion against tablets stems possibly from Maurice de Hand’s absurd idea to name a school-system after a device, as happens with the iPad-school. An iPad is a thing not an ideology. Five years from now another device is probably much more useful. Not the iPad had to take center stage, but the meaningful use of new media. Deploying new media effectively ought to be obvious. We do not debate the use of electricity in schools either.

The discussion that tablets are harmful to children is sixties-chatter. At that time there was fear for the unwholesome influence of television. It seems logical to me that staring at a computer screen for hours is not healthy for anybody, including children. Some old-fashioned resources like paper books, pencils and paper have proven their value and will continue to do that for years to come. Children are also allowed to play outside, climb trees, build huts, get holes in their trousers and come home covered in mud. For me the discussion is not or/or but and/and.

Therefore, let us stop with useless discussions and begin to provide good information about the use of new media. Many families have smartphones, also families where the parents do not read books. The smartphone is often private, but the tablet is used by the whole family. The larger screen is ideal for young children. Unfortunately many parents do not know of the existence of good digital children-books and educational apps. I give many lectures to librarians and teachers focused on stimulating parents to use these resources. Have children that are behind with their language or their math read and learn more often this summer on a tablet. Then they will be one level up after the vacation instead of one level down.

Children often read on a tablet together with their parents. Children are also able to listen to some apps independently; they are able to hear the text more often and enlarge their vocabulary.”


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