Tablet PCs for students plan 'needs modifying'

The government's tablet computer distribution plan benefits students and has no obvious negative impacts, but should be targeting Prathom 4 (Grade 4) students rather than Prathom 1, says an official study.

"Preliminarily, the study finds no obvious negative impacts on students," said Chalermchai Boonyaleepun, president of Srinakharinwirot University which conducted the study.

The analysis found that students benefited in the areas of technological skills and creative thinking.

"They are more happy, enthusiastic and interested in learning. They also have an opportunity to learn to take care of valuable things like tablet computers," Mr Chalermchai said.

Prathom 4 students were learning via tablets faster and better than the younger grade, the study found.

"So, it is more worthwhile to give the tablets to Prathom 4 students, not Prathom 1," said Mr Chalermchai.

The only impact the tablets had on the development of Prathom 1 students was boost the amount of revision they did of their lessons, he said.

The study found that tablet use had no impact on illness, free-time activities, junk food consumption, muscle development, concentration levels and sleeping hours for both grades of students.

It did find that students suffered from eye strain, irritation and teary eyes.

"Still, we cannot yet conclude that those symptoms are results of tablet computer use," Mr Chalermchai said.

The study on the potential impact of tablet devices on young users was launched by the Office of the Basic Eduction Commission under former education minister Woravat Auapinyakul.

Around 500 Prathom 1 and Prathom 4 students in five pilot schools were given Lenovo-brand tablets to use from January to March.

The schools were Rachawinit School and Srinakharinwirot University Prasarnmit Demonstration School in Bangkok, Anuban Lampang School in Lampang, Anuban Phangnga School in Phangnga and Sanambin School in Khon Kaen.

Students were not allowed to take their tablet PCs home.

Teachers were found to have some difficulties handling classes where students were learning using tablets.

In some cases, students taught teachers how to use certain applications, which might have the negative psychological impact of students losing respect for their teachers, Mr Chalermchai said.

Most teachers still need technical assistance in order to use the tablets when teaching.

Therefore, at least one technical staffer must be stationed at every school, especially small ones, he said.

Talks with teachers, executives, parents and communities revealed they thought students should not be allowed to take the devices home as they might then use them to access inappropriate online content.

Parents said the government should organise training for them on how to use tablets, and that an adequate national internet infrastructure needed to be put in place before widespread tablet distribution.

"I do not know if the government will use this study to amend its tablet policy or not. But a government decision to spend a lot of taxpayers' money, affecting several million people, should not be based on a feeling or opinion," said Mr Chalermchai.

"I would like to see government decision-making, when it comes to public policies, being based on academic data," he added.

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