Should schools replace books with computers?

Watch most two-year-olds with an iPad and you will see they are pretty adept at using it. Most of them can actually teach their grandparents what to do.

Computers at a school in the US

Computers at a school in the US

Technology has now become so deeply entrenched in our lives that children pick up mobile phones and computers in a way they once would have crayons.

Yet when they get to school, rather than use these tools that they are used to and that are compatible with learning in a modern world, they are forced to cast them aside and pick up pen and paper.

So do schools need to embrace technology and do away with exercise and text books? It will better equip children for modern living.

Or is scrapping exercise books in favour of laptops the enemy of encouraging children to think for themselves? Will it simply hasten the trajectory of our young into a "toxic childhood" where attention spans are short, spelling and mental arithmetic a thing of the past?

This week's big question: should schools scrap exercise and text books in favour of computers?

Zoe Vaughan

Zoe: No computers encourage lazy thinking

My mother has a great trick. She can tell checkout staff the total cost of her order before they've even plugged two digits into the till. Just to be clear, we're not talking your average supermarket shop here. Ten items or less.

Leaves me speechless. Largely because I'm still counting on my fingers and speaking would make that too hard.

The difference? Calculators. Commonplace in my school classroom. Unheard of in hers.

There's no denying it, technological advances have been hugely beneficial in educational terms but technology also makes us lazy learners.

Laptops correct our spelling, do our sums... and if you plug the right words into Google, will even write your essays for you. Cheating would be oh so easy. Trying to limit Internet access a nigh-on impossible task.

Then there's a plethora of studies out there claiming technology shortens attention spans - not ideal when studying for exams then.

Staring at a backlit computer screen is widely acknowledged not to be good for the eyes and there's a lifetime in an office for that.

Children need to learn the basics. It's what successive governments keep trying to return to. The three Rs. They need to know that working things out is hard, it takes time. Not the instant gratification of lobbing it into some app on your phone which will churn out an answer they can then neither reason nor understand.

Surely children need to learn how to programme the machines before they use them.

Steve Vaughan

Yes: technology is a key skill

It makes no sense for our schoolchildren to be writing in exercise books when hardly anyone in the business world uses long-hand writing for anything more than a Post-It note to remind you to pick up some milk on the way home.

Reports are delivered in Powerpoint presentations while negotiations and correspondence can be carried out via email and we are all slaves to the keyboard but our kids' education is not approached in the same way. It just seems pointless to be asking them to be using tools long discarded by businesses as we are supposed to be making our young people ready for the work place they hopefully want to enter.

Scrapping not just exercise books but also text books could help improve the engagement of the pupils in the classroom. We know that kids use laptops, iPhones, iPads, android and other mobile phones when they are not in lessons (well, they are not supposed to use them in classes) and they know their way round IT much better than most adults, so why not use that enthusiasm for technology for their benefit?

Of course, this lays down a challenge for teachers as they will no doubt be concerned about the kids logging on to Facebook rather than the lesson at hand and that is a matter of supervision to ensure as little misuse as possible. But a computer model than shows the planets of the Solar System or the effects of global warming or real footage from the second World War would bring the subject to life far better than turning to page 78 of some out-of-date text book.

This argument isn't about changing what we teach our kids, it is just the format in which it is processed and presented. They will still learn the same language and numerical skills but in a way that may be of use to them when they are older.

The Internet and our reliance on hardware is the reality of the modern world and failing to deal with that will only push our school pupils further behind as they take on the industrial powers of that modern world. We need to confront and embrace the hi-tech rather than confiscating it.

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