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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 11:50 GMT
Lessons from computer use at home
child using PC
There is massive investment in school computers
Researchers say children learn very differently when using computers at home than they do in school.


These were not difficult kids at all, but all of them are very disappointed by what they find at school

Prof John Furlong
Many are positive about home computers but disillusioned about information and communication technology in their schools - which is the subject of a 1bn investment by the government.

The research team from the universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Wales says the findings have important implications for teachers and policy makers.

Rich-poor divide

The study confirms the "digital divide" with computer ownership tending to relate to how well off a family is.

Eight in 10 children in richer homes had access to a computer, compared with just over half in the lower income homes, where the equipment was also probably not as good.

Almost all those children who had a computer in the home used it. If children did not have a computer at home, only just over half used one outside school.

But, "contrary to popular opinion" the research team says, there are groups of young people who are not interested in computer use.

A crucial factor is parental support. Even in homes where technology was limited and the parents had little knowhow, those who were most successful had parents who supported them, celebrated what they were doing and helped them to get help elsewhere.

So government moves to give poorer children access to computers would not of themselves make a difference, said Prof John Furlong of Cardiff's School of Social Sciences.

School sterility

The use of computers at home tended not to include educational software, certainly at the younger ages - but the children did write, design, and play games on computers for fun and learn through "playful discovery".

Prof Furlong said there were striking differences between the home and school environments.

At home, children were surrounded by rich resources. They were able to ask parents and friends, use software help files or read magazines.

In school everything was much more sterile. They were not allowed to feel that they "owned" the technology, and teachers tended to rely on verbal instructions which was not how the children were used to learning at home.

"They are used to being in charge of their own technology and their own time," he said.

"These were not difficult kids at all, but all of them are very disappointed by what they find at school."

Coasting

As a result they tended to put their brains onto autopilot and let the lessons wash over them.

"And these are kids who are passionate about using the stuff at home," he said.

"Our hunch is that this being more creative, learning how to learn for themselves, being freewheeling, using all sorts of resources to support their learning, is probably much more the sort of thing we need to do in a technological society."

One solution to the "sense of ownership" issue - feeling in control - may lie in the sort of schemes that allow children to take laptop computers between home and school.

"That's going to be very, very important it seems to me," said Prof Furlong.

  • The study began with 855 children aged between nine and 10 and 13-14, 70% of whom had computers in their homes.

    They were asked about their use of computers and the internet, consoles, mobile phones, pagers, television and stereos.

    Sixteen families from different socio-economic, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds were selected for more detailed study over 18 months to see how they used computers at home.

    The research included interviews with the whole family and individuals, and video observations of the children's computer use.

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    See also:

    13 Jan 00 | Bett2000
    Pupils embrace web for work and fun
    21 Sep 00 | Education
    City-wide school computers scheme
    29 Apr 00 | Education
    Video games 'valid learning tools'
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