Computers good for kids but TV gets the thumbs down

Study says even games are better than the idiot box

Computer use is likely to be good for children’s learning, even if they predominantly use the machine to play games, says a report issued last week on the effect of early childhood education and environment on subsequent learning.

Television, by contrast, is still almost entirely a bad influence, says researcher Cathy Wyllie.

The report “Twelve Years Old and Competent” is the latest instalment of a study of a group of 500 children from Wellington and surrounding districts. Having reached the age of 12, they are confirming earlier impressions that preschool education makes a positive difference to later learning and that the difference becomes more marked with increasing age.

By age 12, 90% of the children in the study had a computer in the home, it reports. Wyllie concedes that this might mean they are an unusually well-equipped sample, but says their statistics in other respects are not out of line with studies done in other areas of the country.

“Boys were more likely to download games or music and to surf the internet. Girls were more likely to word-process, seek information for homework projects or use email and online chatrooms.” However the difference in boys’ and girls’ computer use was small, Wyllie adds.

Most of the range of activities, in any case, showed a positive correlation with competence in basic skills. “Computer activities that showed significant associations with children’s competencies, particularly mathematics and communication, were playing games, word processing, email, graphics and homework or projects.”

The association between learning and computer use apparently works in the other direction too. “The higher the level of [the mother’s] qualification, the greater the childrens' use of email and of the computer for homework or projects,” the study says.

On the other hand, “television played a bigger part in the lives of children whose mothers had no qualifications…and a smaller part in the lives of children who enjoyed reading. More [negative] associations were evident between the children’s competencies and their cumulative time spent watching television than with current time use, but those whose current television watching was less than an hour [a day] had higher average scores for mathematics and writing.”

The government has granted additional funding of $545,000 to extend the research to the children at the age of 16, education minister Trevor Mallard says.

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