Reasons for concern about the proposal that every school child should have a tablet (probably an iPad)

The explanation the school gives for its proposal shows that it is made for the best of intentions. Nonetheless, it fails to take into account important concerns

1. The educational case has not been made

2. The cost to parents is inconsistent with free state education, unrealistic and likely to be prohibitive for many parents

3. The impact on family life is likely to be damaging

4. The potential for bullying, especially cyber bullying, will be greatly increased

5. The photographing and videoing of children at school will jeopardise their privacy and their security

6. There is substantial evidence that the microwave radiation used by tablets may have adverse health effects, especially for children

7. Screen addiction has been shown to have damaging physiological effects

8. The security of our children when travelling to and from school will be put at risk.

1. Education

• The aims stated for introducing tablets are laudable: collaborative learning, independent learning, equality of provision. But they can be achieved with good teaching, without tablets

• I know of no published, peer-reviewed evidence that the use of tablets in school improves student achievement

• The study of tablet use at the Longfield Academy that is given prominence on the school’s website shows that over 70% of Longfield staff could not say from their own experience that tablet use had improved student achievement

• The examples of tablet use given on video during the school’s consultation sessions were unconvincing. No real needs were met. What was shown appeared contrived, to make tablets look useful. The groups were tiny, and/or with well-motivated students

• The proposal would oblige teachers to organise classes round the tablets, putting technology before education

• The expectation that tablets will lead to students involving their parents in their education seems optimistic. They are equally likely to be a source of division between students and their parents

• Tablets will undermine reading habits at home and the ability to concentrate for long periods that is learnt with reading

• Tablets are unnecessary for internet access, which is available at school and in many homes by computer

• Tablets are unnecessary for written homework, which can be done on computer or in long-hand

• Tablet use will limit students to programmes compatible with the make of tablet. (The school has indicated that the tablet adopted would probably be an iPad, confining students to Apple programmes)

• Touch-typing, an important skill, cannot be learnt or done on a tablet. Students will be confined to using two fingers

• The potential for the misuse of tablets in class, outside class and at home does not appear to have been adequately considered

2. Cost

• All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school. Under the school’s proposal, tablets will be made an integral part of teaching. Parents should not be expected to pay for them

• The drawbacks of the school’s proposal listed here make it doubtful in any case that the supposed advantages are worth the cost to parents

• As a means of intervention to support struggling students, tablets are likely in many cases to be aimed at the children of parents who are least likely to be able to afford them

• The cost will deter less well-off parents from applying for places at the school for their children

3. Family life

• Experience already shows that the impact of tablet use on family life can be disastrous. “In our family, the iPads provided by the school have killed conversation” – mother of two daughters whose school uses iPads. “He doesn’t come out of his bedroom” – mother whose son was given an iPad. “All he does is play games on it” – another mother

• Many parents do not want their children to have a TV or computer in their bedroom, for well-founded principles relating to family, health and education. Giving a student a tablet will undermine those principles

• Control of the use of a tablet at home is likely to lead to repeated conflict between students and parents. Students will always be able to plead that they cannot be parted from their tablet because they have homework to do

• Possession of a tablet may lead to conflict with siblings who don’t have a tablet

• Family life is the bedrock of school life: any intervention in it should be made with the utmost care – for its own sake and for the sake of school performance

• It is concerning that no effort appears to have been made by the school to find out from parents how they think tablet use could affect family life

4. Bullying

• Tablets will give every child in school a camera with which to photograph or video another child, including without that child’s knowledge. The photograph or video could be uploaded to the internet at home

• This possibility could be used as a threat against another child to cause misery or as part of an act of bullying, extortion or sexual harrassment

• If that possibility is actualised, it could have potentially devastating effects on a child’s happiness, confidence and performance at school

• The school, so far as I know, has no means of preventing such bullying, and can only threaten to take action if it is discovered

5. Privacy and security

• Parents have already seen at the school’s consultation sessions videos of children in class. We were told their names. Were they asked for their consent before their image and names were made public? Would they have felt they could refuse consent if a teacher had asked for it?

• Were their parents asked? If their parents gave permission for images to be used (e.g. when accepting a place at the school), would they have understood that their permission would be taken to apply to videos as well, and that names would be given?

• One parent later recognised a girl who appeared in one of the consultation videos in a shopping centre. The parent was about to say hello, when she realised that the girl wouldn’t have known who she was. It did not seem right to the parent that she had that advantage over the girl

• If tablets are used in school, children will be taking pictures and videos of one another in class and storing them (and possibly pictures and videos of one another outside class)

• The school wants students to take their work home and share it with their parents. Children may show their parents and family friends pictures on their tablet or videos anyway. Does parental consent given for the school to use images of their children apply in this context too? Children may well tell their parents or family friends the names of those pictured, or parents or friends may ask who they are

• It cannot be assumed that no parent or family friend has sexually predatory inclinations, and would not make use of such information

• The school has not made known any measures that it proposes to guard against such breaches of privacy and such a threat to children’s security

6. Effects on health

• Tablets connect to the internet by wifi. iPads cannot connect by cable

• Numerous peer-reviewed studies show that the microwave radiation used in wifi may have damaging health effects

• The Health Protection Agency’s recent report on the issue (2011) confirms many of the findings

• The effects are both short-term and long-term, and children are more vulnerable to them than adults

• Short-term effects include headaches, concentration difficulties, learning and memory problems, fatigue, depression

• Long-term effects include cancer, brain damage, immunological suppression

• The use of tablets will greatly increase children’s exposure to microwave radiation, as each tablet contains an antenna that will irradiate the child using it at close range and other children nearby.

• In class, a child’s exposure to the radiation of a nearby tablet is multiplied by the number of students using tablets in the class – possibly 30 times

• Children (and staff) are already exposed to the microwave radiation emitted by the school’s wifi system 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 40 weeks a year

• In 2000, the government-commissioned Stewart Report on the health effects of mobile telephony recommended the precautionary approach. Sir William Stewart, a former Chief Scientific Advisor, has since expressed particular concern about wifi

• Education does not take priority over our children’s health; nor is it morally acceptable take risks with their health for reasons that are entirely avoidable

• The same applies to screen addiction

7. Screen addiction

• The use of tablets in school will greatly increase screen time for children and the risk of screen addiction

• Screen addiction is a physical dependency affecting children and teenagers and recognised by paediatricians

• It relates to virtually all types of screen, including TV, computers, video games, smart phones – and tablets

• It affects sleep, learning, memory and mood. Symptoms include insomnia, irritability, depression, reduction in attention span

• Research indicates that negative effects set in after about 2 hours viewing

• Prolonged screen time is also linked to increased obesity in children and risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes in young adulthood

• Researchers and paediatricians strongly advise reducing screen time – not increasing it

8. Children’s security while travelling

• Tablets, especially iPads, have become highly sought-after consumer goods

• In New York, the rise in the crime rate last year was due entirely to thefts of iPhones and iPads. The city’s mayor has said that these devices are “inordinately attractive to thieves”. In San Francisco, thefts of Apple products accounted for nearly half of all robberies

• In the UK, 24% of victims of mobile phone robbery were aged between 10 and 17 (2007/8 figure). This age group seems consistently to suffer the most from mobile phone theft

• It will be public knowledge that students at the school will have iPads. A Cambridge police officer has said that their uniform will “label” them as children likely to be carrying the devices

• The school has indicated on its website that schools already using tablets have not reported any thefts from children

• Experience with school tablets is so far limited, and does not justify exposing children to the risk.

1 Germany warns citizens to avoid using Wi-Fi’, Independent, 9.9.07