Flourishing faith in Google for fast facts

Young people are setting greater store by the wisdom of search engines than their teachers' know-how

Adi Bloom

Only 3 per cent of schoolchildren would turn to their teachers for information or the answer to a question, a new study has revealed.

And around a quarter said they had no idea what an encyclopaedia was, according to research carried out by Birmingham Science City, a public-private research alliance incorporating the universities of Birmingham and Warwick.

The organisation surveyed 500 pupils around the country with the aim of finding out how technology had affected the ways in which the pupils, aged between 6 and 15, sought out the information they needed for their learning.

More than half said Google would be the first place they turned to. Overall, 91 per cent said they used the online search engine to seek information. Just under half the pupils questioned said they used Google at least five times a day, while roughly a fifth said they googled queries 10 or more times a day.

A quarter of the pupils surveyed said they would turn to their parents for information or the answers to queries. Meanwhile, 14 per cent accused their parents of being unintelligent and a third said their parents would be stumped by the homework they bring home.

Teachers, however, were given credit for even less intelligence and approachability. Only 3 per cent of pupils said they would go to their teachers for information or the answer to a question; and one in 10 pupils said they would never turn to their teachers in such situations.

"With children now growing up in an environment where digital technology is accepted as standard, it's not surprising that, with answers at the touch of a button, youngsters often Google questions before asking parents, friends or teachers," says Pam Waddell, director of Birmingham Science City. "This isn't necessarily a bad thing."

It is, however, at the expense of older forms of information gathering. Almost half the pupils said they had never used a print encyclopaedia, and one in five had not used a print dictionary.

Indeed, a quarter of children did not know what an encyclopaedia was for. One in 10 believed it was something to cook with, travel on, perform an operation with, or use to catch a ball.

By contrast, almost one in three had used an iPad, Kindle or computer to read a book, and 36 per cent do so on a weekly basis. Children also prefer digital communication: texting and Facebook messaging were the favoured options for almost half of those questioned. A quarter would choose email above any other form of communication.

"Children, no matter what generation they grow up in, have an inquisitive and curious nature," says Waddell. "The fact that they are able to use new technology to explore this is a positive sign."

Find out more about Birmingham Science City at www.birminghamsciencecity.co.uk.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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