Should Tablets Replace Textbooks?
We've always limited “screen time” at home: no screen time before two years of age, and only occasional educational DVDs or apps after that. Researchers have found a connection between screen time and a host of behavioral and physical problems. Some children have become so addicted to iPads and other tablet devices that their parents have even sought out treatment.
So, should I be worried about the increasing dependence on technology in our schools? In addition to a weekly computer class, my first-grade daughter spends much of her instructional school day in front of the "smart board." And now, school districts across the country are talking about replacing textbooks with tablets.
Important distinctions must be drawn between television screen time (yes, even educational programming), which is a mostly passive medium, and tablet screen time, which is more interactive. Another important factor is the age of the child. All people need human interaction, but babies and toddlers need it most of all. Studies have suggested that tablets may boost literacy in school-age children, however, plus they help autistic children communicate.
Tablets in the classroom could replace expensive and bulky textbooks, allow children to make and more easily retrieve notes, provide interactive functions and help track progress. When I was a child, I could barely carry my backpack up my driveway—we could avoid a lot of back problems by substituting one wafer-thin tablet for four giant textbooks.
Beyond logistical concerns (what happens if the tablet is lost, stolen or broken?), I do worry that we are rushing headlong toward a brave new world of technology without considering what we might lose. Interactive technology works so well for the same reason it is so addictive: The feedback loop creates a pleasurable connection in the brain. If our children are constantly plugged in, they run the risk of becoming addicted and missing out on a lot of what the world has to offer, especially in a time when schools are cutting art, music, gym and recess. Human brains need real-world connections, tactile sensations and even some downtime. Tablets can be a part of a child's education, but we have to guard against these devices taking over.
When I went to school, we also had something that provided interactive learning, tracked our individual progress and customized our curriculum; we called it a teacher. Does the smart board make a genuine connection with a child? Does the tablet care that the child has grown? Can the computer measure the child's creative, social and emotional growth? With uneven quality of schools, I do understand the urge to "standardize" and "teacher-proof" lessons. However, no computer, smart board or tablet can replace a good a teacher.