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Technology altering children's brains is 'desirable', says TV academic

Parents and teachers should embrace technology altering children’s brains, not fear it, leading anatomist and TV academic Alice Roberts has said.

Professor Roberts, who has hosted a range of BBC documentaries on human evolution and is also the president of the Association of Science Education, believes that our brains have evolved to cope with the changes that technology brings.

The number of tablets in both primary and secondary schools has soared over the past two years, with 260,000 mobile devices bought by British schools in 2013, up from 100,000 in 2012.

As the use of tablets both at home and at school has grown, so too have concerns as to what impact it might be having on young people’s brains.

Fears are mounting over the amount of time children are spending in front of screens, with reports in March last year that a four-year-old girl had to be given psychiatric treatment due to an apparent addiction to her parents’ iPad.

But Professor Roberts, the star of TV shows such as The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us, and Prehistoric Autopsy, told TES that the concerns were not entirely warranted.

“I am not as worried as some people about technology altering our children’s brains,” she said. “That’s inevitable, and I think, desirable.

“Brains are designed – through evolution, of course – to be malleable and plastic; to adapt to their cultural environment.”

Technology, she added, was part of the world children live in and they need to develop the skills by which to use it.

“Human culture evolves and so keeping up with it in education is important,” she said. “The students leaving school now need some different skills alongside the ones I learned in the 1980s.”

The Campaign for Real Education (CRE), however, said it was "mightily concerned" about the potential for children's brains to be affected by an overexposure to computers and tablets.  
Chris McGovern, chair of the CRE, said: "We are one of the few groups that has voiced their concern about this, and we are worried that children's brains are changing without us knowing any of the consequences of what those changes might mean.
"Children are using computers at school then going home and using them in their bedrooms. They are living in a virtual world more than the real world." 

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