A new report published by the National Children's Bureau (NCB), a UK educational charity, has received extensive coverage in the media as clear evidence that video games are "bad" for children. The findings are less apocalyptic than what you might have read so far.
The study's aim was to examine how young people’s use of computers and access to the Internet might impact final grades achieved in their GCSEs, a qualification that British students obtain at 16. The study was conducted in Northern Ireland on 611 students, as well as 41 parents and 18 teachers of the pupils. Possible confounding factors such as socio-economic background of the students and their educational needs were also taken into account.
Students benefit from having a computer and being familiar with the software, the study confirms. It highlights how students that have access to word processing and presentation programs are significantly more likely to achieve higher grades than the students that did not. They also found that the highest achieving pupils were the ones who spent a moderate to high amount of time on a computer (1-3 hours a day), regardless of what they were actually doing on the computer.
The report goes on to analyze different aspects of information and communication technology. In general, teachers and parents were found to believe that usage of mobile phones, social media and gaming play a part in pupils' poor academic achievements. Contrary to this idea, the study didn’t find any relationship between time spent on social media or mobile phone usage and poor performance in school.
What the study did find, however, was that among those gamers who used a portable gaming console more than twice a day, only a small proportion (41%) achieved the highest grades. This has been reported elsewhere as the "smoking gun" of the damaging effect of video games, but the NCB study also failed to find any significant difference between the grades of those classed as regular gamers (gaming once a day) to occasional gamers.
In fact, recent studies in the United States and in England have highlighted how low levels of regular gaming (less than an hour per day) can actually have a positive impact on a student academic achievement. The report advises caution in the interpretation of these results and suggests a need for more detailed studies to understand the potential underlying cause, in addition to intensive gaming, which could possibly lead to poor academic performances.
In general, though, the study shows an overwhelmingly positive impact of ICT literacy on the pupils' achievements in school, and the study recommends investment in young people's access to ICT.