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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

iPad: suitable for all ages

Ever watched a kid playing with a tablet computer? You're watching the future

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I've just had a fascinating visit to a primary school rated by Ofsted as Outstanding. The school was, as you would expect ‘in to’ everything and very tech-savvy. To prove it, they had iPads and ‘were getting’ Raspberry Pi.

They also had, in the younger part of the school, some mightily young sprogs, and I mean nigh on two years old. Now I suppose you all know already, but in case you haven't seen this for yourself, very young children are particularly adept at using iPads.

For example, I observed a smart two year old launch iTunes, scroll and select his favourite Lady GaGa track (he had moved on from Goo Goo presumably) and sit back to enjoy it. Moreover all of the five year old children could, just like David Hockney, knock up a colourful piece of art work having launched the appropriate app to do so.

Lets just pause here.

We can confirm two things:

  1. ‘ease of use’ has come a long way from ASCII art and writing drivers for sound cards
  2. there is congruence between adult iPad users and the under-fives.

The question is, can iPads or similar be of use in the early cognitive development of our children, and so should schools invest in them?

Before rushing out and buying the latest thing a little caution is advised; after all to a toddler, being attracted to shiny things, smearing an electrostatic touchscreen is as natural as smearing any other smooth surface. In the same vein, it is also natural for the youngster to point at what he/she wants and enjoy finger painting, often at the same time in a classic short attention-span multitasking environment.

In other words the touch screen tablet device is the first truly infantile consumer electronic device, but the question that poses itself now is: are adults becoming infantile or children growing up too early?

I don’t know the answer to the question posed above, but I think it must be take seriously. Adults are progressively being infantile in so many ways that I could not hold a reader’s attention for the time taken to detail them, so I’ll stick to the next generation.

In the early years, children have less verbal dependence (or indeed facility) for interaction with their emerging world. This much is easily observed and great store is placed on acquiring the skills of speech, listening, reading and writing.

It is indeed unfortunately common for children from deprived backgrounds to have very poorly developed linguistic worlds, and by five many still use gesture as their prime means of communication. These children do not do well at school.

So what if immersion in a powerful gesture driven world inhibits a child’s entry into the world of words? This kind of possibility is analogous to the fierce controversy in the deaf communities between ‘signers’ and ‘lip-readers’.

Conversely, what if using the ‘intellect of the finger-tip’ which is so important to the toolmaker, designer and artist unleashes a new creative and innovative creature?

The answers to these questions are not known yet, but I would be grateful if any readers would supply me with anecdotal data to supplement my own. It will be truly fascinating.

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