Why are kids so smart with technology

Digital classroomPsychiatrists: If children just mop, they are at a disadvantage *

Tobias Crossbows: Digitization - we hear the word a lot these weeks and these days, especially in connection with school education in Germany. Many politicians are now calling for the digital classroom. Children should be familiarized with programming computers in school, preferably in elementary school. This is what the new digital minister Dorothee Bär says, for example. WiFi networks in schools - another requirement - that should also be expanded. Overall the tenor: if German schools, if German classrooms fail to make the connection, then we will lose a lot of jobs in this important economic sector in the coming decades.

We want to shed a little more light on this, from a slightly different perspective. On the phone is the psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author Manfred Spitzer, professor at Ulm University. Good morning, Mr. Spitzer.

Manfred Spitzer: Yes good morning.

"You can't learn programming in elementary school"

Crossbows: Mr. Spitzer, it's best to learn to program in elementary school, is that a good idea?

Sharpener: That's not a good idea at all. It's like "we need good mathematicians, so we're already integrating and differentiating in elementary school." That can't work because to program you have to understand certain logical processes, you have to have certain basic mathematical knowledge, and that is only available at some point in middle school. You can learn to program in upper school, maybe you can learn to program earlier, but not in elementary school. You can do some nonsense on computers and nobody learns, it just wastes time and you definitely shouldn't do that.

Crossbows: But not all adults have had this experience at some point, or almost all adults, at least those who sometimes have to do with children, that children can do everything incredibly easily with computers and that they make things really playful and that they have completely different access to these devices than adults?

Psychiatrist, brain researcher, author: Manfred Spitzer (picture alliance / dpa / Hendrik Schmidt)

Sharpener: But that's very simple and a completely different matter. Nobody is sitting at their smartphone and programming. The simple fact is that whatever it is, children learn much faster than adults. There is of course how to use a smartphone, which buttons I press and where to swipe, and so on, a child of course learns that much easier. A child learns to speak more easily and it learns to walk very quickly, much more easily than adults learn. It has been known for a long time and it is nothing special and it has nothing to do with computers either.

And one more thing: It doesn't even have anything to do with how well a child is developing. Because a child needs certain things, I would say, as input. It has to touch things, it has to learn to deal with things. And if today the children come to school and can no longer hold a pen because they have only been busy wiping over a glass surface and have not properly trained their hands in any way, either motor or sensory, then they have a disadvantage, and a big disadvantage. We are bringing up a generation of disabled people, let me put it drastically. The more finger games they do in kindergarten, the better they are at 20 at math, because the numbers come into the brain via the fingers and their complex use. If you just mop up as a kindergarten child, your career as a cleaning specialist will come to an end. You just shouldn't do that.

"You can't say, now handle it responsibly"

Crossbows: Doesn't what you are describing mean exactly that children have to be taught at school how to use these devices correctly, including how to use them responsibly? The whole thing always runs under the keyword digital competence.

Sharpener: Yes, you have to put that into perspective. You can't talk to a three year old about candy and say, hey, here you have a pile of candy, now handle it responsibly. This is nonsense. You cannot say to adolescents who are just beginning to empathize with all kinds of things, but please only use your smartphone responsibly. 100,000 years ago, when two people hid or mated behind the bush, everyone looked, "Monkey see, Monkey do".

We know how we humans behave, and sex and crime is still the main content of the Internet and of course what you can do with the Internet on your smartphone. No 14-year-old will not approach it and look, because the 14-year-olds, who 100,000 years ago were not interested in sex and crime, none of them come from. 14-year-olds are like that, just like three-year-olds like something sweet, because those who didn't eat anything sweet 100,000 years ago were dead when they were hungry again. That is why we, as three-year-olds, are insensitive to sweet so we can eat so much can eat where adults are already sick.

And you have to be clear: this is our biology, it is like that. Just as it does not follow from this biology that three-year-olds should eat as much sweets as they want themselves and that they, let me put it casually, have no brains to do it themselves, just as young people are completely overwhelmed. The studies also show that, by the way. A large Blikk study from last year, carried out by German paediatricians on 6000 people. The result is that 13-year-olds feel overwhelmed by the smartphone and that they lose control of the smartphone because the smartphone - we also know this - has addictive properties. In Korea there were over 30 percent addicts, we are at eight percent. We can't say deal with it!

"Steve Jobs Said iPads Are Not For Kids"

Crossbows: Mr. Spitzer, I have to ask a question every now and then. Does that mean that computers should always be kept away from school, as far away as possible from the students, and that parents should also be told to keep your children away from these devices?

Sharpener: If you take a very serious look at the study situation, Mr. Macron is simply right when he says that we will ban smartphones in French schools from autumn 2018. Because there are large studies that show that if you do that, the students will better.

There is still big research showing that when you introduce WiFi and computers in schools, student performance drops by 20 percent, according to the latest study. And if you look at it: there is no study, really none - and it is always claimed; but if you then ask where the study is, then it is not there. Just recently, the Technical University of Munich supposedly published a large study. The FAZ and the NZZ referred to it.

Because I was very interested in that, I followed up: The study does not exist! It's not even published yet! And if I did, I would want to read it very critically. But you can't do that as long as it doesn't exist. But the newspapers are already saying that digitization is good for children's learning. This is a first rate scandal and I can't see how anyone can stand up and say we need more tablets in elementary schools when even the boss of Apple says tablets are not for my nephew in school. Steven Jobs said the inventor of the iPad is not for children. Now they are already giving them out in kindergartens and elementary schools. This is really a scandal, because again: We know that they damage learning and not help it.

"Smartphone makes high blood pressure"

Crossbows: Mr. Spitzer, I can imagine that now a lot of people are listening and saying that it reminds us of what we once learned in history class, that in the past even reading in schools was demonized, or the use of books in general. Then in the Middle Ages it was said that it was nothing at all, neither for children nor for adults. Are we not simply withholding something important from our children when we demonize computers, PCs and smartphones in school?

Sharpener: I'm not demonizing that at all. Look, a smartphone causes high blood pressure, makes you nearsighted, and in South Korea it is 95 percent of the young population. Normal would be five percent at most. Smartphones cause diabetes, insomnia and depression. Girls who have been on Facebook for more than three hours at 13 are twice as likely to be depressed by 18. Smartphones create addiction. Social Medias, the whole word here is a language adjustment.

Crossbows: But these devices are part of our everyday life. They are part of it, they can no longer be removed.

Sharpener: Moment! I don't accept the argument at all. There has always been a technology impact assessment for every new technology. At some point you invented radioactive rays and then you thought about what we should do with them and how do we deal with them sensibly. When X-rays were invented, they X-rayed each other in Berlin in 1895. Today we attack each other, what kind of damage they have done to each other. There were thousands of fluoroscopy devices in the children's sections of the shoe stores. This is the most radiation-intensive procedure in medicine and they were in the children's wards until the 1970s, when they were slowly carried out. For example, people didn't just accept asbestos in the houses and they didn't say, that's just there, we go in less. No, we're tearing down the houses.

And one more thing: There is a large study from 2015 by the Pisa study leaders, and they examined the following: How much has students in over 60 countries around the world invested in digitization and how have Pisa performance changed? And the result: the more a lot has been invested in digitization in some countries, for example a lot in Australia and a lot in Finland, the worse the Pisa performance became during the observation period. The Australians introduced computers in 2008 and put them away again in 2016 because they got so bad in the Pisa study. We're doing the students' health and education a disservice by digitizing educational institutions. We have to be clear about that. Everything else is post-truth education policy.

"WiFi in the classroom makes the performance worse"

Crossbows: But, Mr. Spitzer, where are the future IT specialists supposed to come from, the future specialists in this important economic area, if they all only have the opportunity to deal with it after school?

Sharpener: Wait a moment! I am saying that if you study with digital media in school, the education will get worse. WiFi in the classroom makes performance 18 percent worse because the children are more distracted. If you do more distracted lessons, students won't get any smarter. But you have to be smart, you are absolutely right.

Another example: if you google you don't need media literacy. - This is nonsense! You need prior knowledge in the area in which you are Googling. You have to have this prior knowledge, and then you can google it.

We have known since 2012 that Google is worse than books, newspapers or magazines for conveying knowledge. So we don't want to google at school because we want to acquire knowledge there, real knowledge that we can use afterwards. And if we take it really seriously, then the children can even google well afterwards, better than if they don't know anything. But if children should be able to google well afterwards, there is one thing they are not allowed to do at school: googling! This is an idea that is very clear and demonstrably there. This is what Harvard professors found out, published in Science Magazine, and I cannot understand how our politicians always completely disguise this idea. They don't even want to hear that. They just don't want to hear that. This is criminal!

"Every nonsense flutters across the screen"

Crossbows: Mr Spitzer, that would mean, in concrete terms, schools would then tell their students, please do not google your entire school time, you can use Google when you are 18, 19, when you have finished school, until then you read books .

Sharpener: Wait a minute! You would never put it that way. You would just stop saying if you googled or if you give a presentation with PowerPoint, you get a one and otherwise only a two. That's the way it is right now. We demand behavior in learning that is geared towards superficiality. We are precisely not asking to delve deeply. Incidentally, the latest study that has been done on smartphones and tablets comes from Mr Kamal. It came out very clearly: the children say they are very media-literate. Only one in 25 children has yet to be taught how to use a computer and smartphone. The other 24 can. If you now do digital lessons in schools across the board, do it for one child in a class of 25 children. That was the result of a large German study. Second, it has been shown that the more media literate a child is, the more likely they are to read books and not from the screen. California students: If you ask them what do you read, they say books too. Yes why? - Every nonsense flutters across the screen; When it comes to books, I'm halfway sure that what's in them is correct.

The children have noticed this for a long time. Only we adults are really so behind now and so retro that we believe we need to put computers in schools so that the children as adults can handle them better. This is wrong! If you know something and have learned to think, you can also use computers. Digital experts, people who really teach programming, agree that one shouldn't code in elementary school.

Crossbows: A slightly different view of the digital classroom - that was here live in the "Informations am Morgen" from the Ulm psychiatrist, neuroscientist and university professor Professor Manfred Spitzer. Thank you, Mr Spitzer, for your time this morning.

Sharpener: Thank you!

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

*In the original version, we have greatly shortened a statement by interview partner Manfred Spitzer in the heading and identified it as a direct quote. That was wrong. We have changed the heading accordingly.