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Computers top pupils' happiness league table

Research on seven-year-olds' attitudes to school reveal that 31 per cent hate the very idea. Josephine Gardiner reports

Today's seven-year-olds like working on computers better than anything else they do at school, new research has shown.

Not only do they prefer computer work to mathematics and writing, they would also rather sit at their screens than listen to a story, paint or do PE. Girls are as keen on using the computer as boys - previous research has shown girls to be far more reluctant.

The researchers from the London School of Economics and the London Institute of Education, surveyed 316 Year 2 children in six schools in four inner-London authorities.

The schools were chosen to provide a diverse cross-section of social and ethnic backgrounds. The aim was to get a picture of their reactions to the national curr-iculum.

The children were asked to indicate how they felt about various activities on a sliding scale from "very happy" to "very unhappy". After computer activities, which elicited a happiness score of 92 per cent, came drawing and painting at 87 per cent and PE at 76 per cent. Scientific experiments and listening to stories came next, with maths, reading to themselves, weighing and measuring and writing stories clustering in the middle of the table at around 60 per cent.

The least popular activities were "asking for help with spelling", science (as distinct from science experiments), and practising handwriting. Around 36 per cent of the children said these activities made them "unhappy or very unhappy".

Significantly more girls had positive attitudes towards certain school tasks: 70 per cent liked reading to themselves compared to 55 per cent of boys. There were similar differences in their reaction to handwriting, painting and reading aloud to an adult. Girls were also more positive about going to school - 66 per cent were keen compared to 49 per cent of boys. Children from Asian or Afro-Caribbean backgrounds were more enthusiastic about going to school than children from English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish backgrounds - 70 per cent versus 46 per cent.

Asked to elaborate on why they disliked certain activities, the children cited boredom - mentioning reading schemes that were unexciting or too easy, difficulty in mastering tasks (handwriting wasmentioned frequently) and fear of failure.

The six and seven-year-olds were also asked about non-academic school activities. While it is unsurprising to find that 82 per cent enjoyed talking to friends and 79 per cent enjoyed playtime, the fact that 12 per cent reported that these activities made them unhappy or very unhappy is disturbing. An alarming 21 per cent hate talking to the teacher, and 31 per cent hate going to school.

The researchers note that the pupils used computer software to support a wide range of subjects across the curriculum, such as writing stories, maths and drawing. They conclude that "there is a strong case for harnessing these high levels of enjoyment and motivation in relation to computers to enable the potential of all children to be realised".

Children find working on the computer rewarding because it offers immediate positive feedback and a sense of satisfaction. However, the researchers also suggest that because time on computers is still rationed in most schools, working on them may possess a glamour which would disappear if they were ubiquitous.

Children's Attitudes to the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1. By Anne West, Jean Hailes, Pam Sammons. Published in the British Educational Research Journal Vol 23.

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