Northern Ireland study finds multiple benefits to using iPads in elementary classrooms

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Technology can be beneficial to younger students learning core skills, a two-year research project has found, with elementary schools in Northern Ireland found to have improved the numeracy, literacy, and communication skills of their pupils after incorporating iPads into their lessons.

The report "Mobile Devices in Early Learning," published by Stranmillis University College of Belfast, concerns a study assessing the impact mobile devices, such as iPads, have on children's learning of English and mathematics in "the Early Years and Foundation Stage" of education. Five schools in areas of "high social deprivation and academic under-achievement" were provided with iPads from the Belfast Education and Library Board specifically for the study.

According to the report, iPads were provided for use in classes for specific lessons, with teachers also receiving iPads for monitoring and recording pupil progress, with some schools also providing tablets to pupils for use across lessons, to "facilitate personal ownership." In early phases, the study focused on Primary 1 and 2 children, aged 4 to 6 years, with the later phases extending the age range to 8 years old, in Primary 4.

"The introduction of digital technology has had a positive impact on the development of pupil literacy and number skills," said principal investigator Dr Colette Gray. The iPads appear to have done more than improve these areas, with Gray adding "contrary to initial expectations, principals and teachers also reported that their use had enhanced children's communication skills, acting as a stimulus for peer to peer and pupil to teacher discussion."

The study found children's confidence and ownership of the learning process was enhanced by the technology, with improvements noted in children's creativity, technical, social, citizenship, and fine motor skills. Improvements were also found in the staff, with motivation and enthusiasm of teachers said to have been "positively impacted" with the tablets.

Gray warns that the addition of technology to the classroom is not a stand-alone solution, and should complement existing teaching approaches rather than replacing them. "New digital tools offer the potential to enhance traditional approaches to children's learning in an engaging and exciting way - something which was clearly shown in the findings of this study where, for example, boys appear to be more enthused when using digital technology, particularly when producing written work."

Schools have been increasing the use of mobile devices in the education of students for some time, with Apple pushing for the use of iPads and iOS apps as part of their curriculum by providing "starter guides" to educators. Apple has provided other classroom resources for teachers to use, including the Classroom app for remotely managing other iPads in use by students.

Despite the potential for iPads to improve the education prospects of children, one UK politician has criticized its use. Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families at the Department of Education, called for a reduction of iPad over concerns it is being used as a reason for students to bully one another.