UK teens 'educationally disadvantaged' if kept offline

A new report suggests that the benefits of the Internet and mobility outweigh any risks when it comes to education.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

A new report suggests that the benefits of the Internet and mobility outweigh any risks when it comes to teenage education in the United Kingdom.

Credit: ZDNet

A large-scale study conducted by Oxford University, U.K., found that even though parents remain worried about mobility and Internet safety, the educational benefits of such technology outweighs the risk.

Based on over 1,000 "randomly selected" U.K. households, in addition to interviews with over 200 teenagers and their families between 2008 and 2011, researchers found that parents are often anxious about the web; considering social networking sites -- including Twitter and Facebook -- as potential sources of distraction for their offspring.

This certainly makes sense, and these websites can be addictive, especially when coupled with instant access on a smartphone or tablet. However, the team at Oxford University's Department of Education concluded that there are "substantial educational advantages" to both kinds of technology.

According to the study, teenagers felt both "educationally disadvantaged" and sometimes "socially isolated" if they did not have Internet access at home. Without the means to complete research or projects at home with the web as a resource, teenage students stated that much of the work now set for them required resources that are found online -- and traditional research centers including libraries don't make the cut anymore.

At the time of the study, the researchers estimated that 10 percent of U.K. teenagers surveyed were without Internet access at home, whereas recent figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest this figure dropped to five percent last year.

Dr Chris Davies Researcher Dr Rebecca Eynon said:

"While it's difficult to state a precise figure for teenagers without access to the internet at home, the fact remains that in the U.K., there is something like 300,000 young people who do not -- and that's a significant number. Behind the statistics, our qualitative research shows that these disconnected young people are clearly missing out both educationally and socially."

The study also contradicts claims that others have made about the potential risks of technology including social networking and smartphones distracting teenagers from study. The researchers, Dr Chris Davies and Dr Rebecca Eynon, found no evidence to support this claim; instead, they believe the Internet offers students today far more opportunities to learn.

Davies commented:

"Parental anxiety about how teenagers might use the very technologies that they have bought their own children at considerable expense is leading some to discourage their children from becoming confident users. The evidence, based on the survey and hundreds of interviews, shows that parents have tended to focus on the negative side -- especially the distracting effects of social networking sites -- without always seeing the positive use that their children often make of being online."

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