Battery-powered souls don't inspire

8th October 2010 at 01:00

Some time ago, Education Secretary Mike Russell endorsed the use of computers in schools. He firmly believes that technology can motivate young people to develop their skills. Learning and Teaching Scotland is also active in supporting the wider use of computer technology in schools.

Taking a quite opposite view, however, is Sergio Della Sala, the professor of human cognitive neuroscience at Edinburgh University, who argues that computers have no observable advantage over books, as far as learning is concerned.

From my own experience as a teacher, I can see both sides of the question. There is no doubt that computers offer a wide range of positive experiences. However, in the minds of some pupils, the classroom melts seamlessly into the leisure world of the PlayStation, mobile phone and MP3 player. Trailing cables from cunningly-concealed mini-earphones, they drift from class to class, sound oozing from their mobile devices.

In a sense, the mobile device is the core of pupils' being, the essence of everything they respect and cherish: it is their "soul". It is not surprising, therefore, that some school managements take the view that confiscating a mobile phone would leave them open to prosecution by parents, on the grounds that the teachers might have accessed confidential information or private personal images.

Despite their digital dexterity, however, pupils risk hearing loss through the overuse of headphones turned to high volume or the continual use of mobile phones.

Equally worrying is the effect that technology is having on skill levels in sport. The great Australian batsman, Don Bradman, developed his eye, strength of grip and sharp reactions from spending hours knocking a golf ball against a wall, using a stump as a cricket bat. Today, kids don't seem to have the time to do that.

A minimum two hours a week of sport or exercise in school is a very meagre diet indeed, and flexing thumbs incessantly across computer keyboards is no substitute.

Michael Turnbull, Orchard Court, Longniddry, East Lothian.

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