The Maharashtra government has planned to provide students across the state digital tablets from the next academic year. The move is aimed at lightening the weight of schoolbags will also help students become tech savvy.
However, childcare experts fear reading e-books on light emitting devices, especially during the night, could have an adverse impact on the children’s sleep patterns and make them less attentive in classes held during the morning hours.
According to a recent study by the Harvard Medical School, reading an e-book before bedtime affects both sleep at night and alertness in the morning. Participants of the study, who were asked to read a light-emitting e-book, on an average, took almost 10 minutes longer to fall asleep and said they were less sleepy an hour before bedtime than they were when they read a conventional paper book.
Hence, experts have proposed the state government to suggest well-researched guidelines on regulating the usage of such devices among children.
Dr Harish Shetty, senior psychiatrist, LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, said over-exposure to any kind of screens – be it mobile phones, television or tablets – can affect sleep. “Excessive use of lit-up screens can negatively affect sleep and lead to exhaustion,” said Dr Shetty, adding, “It can also affect one’s memory.”
Before they are given the devices, students should be taught to use them judiciously, said Dr Shetty.
“The decision to use tablets for learning is good as it will help children keep up with their counterparts across the world. But care needs to be taken to ensure these devices are being effectively used,” said Dr Shetty.
According to Swati Popat Vats, president of the Early Childhood Association, an expert group in pre-school education, reading many books on such devices could hamper brain development.
“The human brain moves from concrete to abstract. But in the case of tablets, all the content is abstract, even if we try to give it a 3D feel as much as possible. Hence, people find it difficult to read e-books for long hours,” said Vats.
These devices also result in reactive learning in which children get used to procuring information at the push of a button, said Vats.
“This type of learning can reduce one’s attention span resulting in inability to focus during classroom interactions,” said Vats, adding that this could also lead to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “They grow impatient and cannot sit still,” said Vats.
Some principals fear such devices could cause a distraction in class.
“If every child is given a tablet, they will not pay attention in class, as they will be absorbed in the device,” said Freny Mehta, principal, Alexandra Girls English Institution, Fort. “Collective learning is important. Other audio-visual mediums such as teaching using smart boards will be more helpful.”
These problems can be tackled only by training parents and teachers in regulating the use of such devices, said Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental paediatrician, New Horizons Development Centre, Goregaon.
“Because electronic devices such as tablets have unlimited apps, it is easy for children to get carried away and get addicted to them,” said Dr Dalwai.
“Therefore, the government should draft guidelines for teachers and parents on regulating the use of such devices among children,” he said.