Hard truth to swallow

Jon Valentine, CEO of Impero Software, explains why tablet computers could be harming kids’ employment prospects

The tablet computer has revolutionised personal computing and the way in which we consume media in our leisure time. Its impact is also being felt in the workplace, as adoption of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and flexible working schemes increases, and in schools across the country where it’s making learning more interactive. A few years ago tablets would be a rare sight in the classroom but, as we learned at BETT 2014, today they are a staple of modern education. 

It comes as no surprise then that six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults and learn to use smartphones and tablets before they are able to talk, according to a report from Ofcom. While this may sound like further reassurance that children today are better equipped for a digital world than ever before, not everyone is so positive. Some have drawn attention to the potentially harmful effects on mental and behavioural development that children are being subjected to – especially when some reports suggest that by age seven, kids will have spent one full year in front of a screen. Those in favour of tablets for kids counter with the argument that tablets in fact give young users a window to real-world experience that helps to kick-start the learning process. 

One issue that has not received the same level of attention but could have more serious implications for young people today concerns their employment prospects. We’re constantly told that tech-savvy children have a great advantage when entering the job market, but what if their affinity for tablets is actually more of a hindrance than a help?

This may seem a bold claim, but consider that the desktop PC is still the preferred choice of employers and the default tool used by the majority of workers. With school children being raised on tablets, it’s possible that for many of them their first day at the office will also be the first day they have to do any real work with a physical keyboard and mouse. Basic typing skills will be sub-standard to say the least – not to mention the effect that reliance on personal devices has on handwriting development. New apps may launch every day, but Microsoft Office products such as Word and Excel are still the gold standard in office administration: anyone who has tried to manipulate a complex spreadsheet on an iPad knows that this is no mean feat. 

Of course in many areas tablets trump desktop PCs as classroom learning aids. And they play an important role in wider educational initiatives such as coding for kids, helping to equip young school-leavers with skills at a level unseen in previous generations. But schools that push these new devices at the expense of more traditional technologies risk failing to equip their pupils with the foundation they need to excel at work. Just as employers should embrace the new; educators must remember not to forget the tried and tested technologies that, after all, still power our economy. Only when our children are confident in traditional computing skills can they grow into well-rounded, employable adults, as capable on a keyboard as they are with a tablet computer. A top-down approach, where tablets are adopted by the employer first, then by universities, colleges, secondary then finally, primary schools, will prevent the tablet from remaining only a supplementary learning device.

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