The ‘ICT and Me’ study of 14-16 year olds in Northern Ireland, found that only 41% of children who reported using a games console or portable games player a couple of times per day, achieved five good GCSE grades, compared to 77% of those who played games rarely.
Yet despite social media being a more popular online activity than gaming, with 81% of young people going online to do this daily, many for several hours, the study found no link between intensive social networking and poor performance in exams.
The research, published by the National Children’s Bureau, is the first ever long-term study in Northern Ireland of how a child’s use of information and communication technology (ICT) impacts on GCSE attainment.
The report, funded by the Office of the First Minster and Deputy First Minster, confirms that young people spend a significant time online each day, with four in 10 young people spending four hours or more online in the year they take GCSEs. However, much of this time is spent on recreational activities with many young people (43%) spending less than an hour each day using a computer for homework.
Pupils who spent around three hours every day using a computer to do homework achieved the best exam results, with 79% achieving five A* to C grades in their GCSEs. But those who spent no time on homework or who spent more than three hours on homework, did considerably worse with only 57% getting five good grades.
Access to a computer at home was not an issue for the vast majority of pupils taking part in the study, but there still remains a small proportion, many of whom are from poorer families entitled to Free Schools Meals, who are placed at a considerable disadvantage by not having a computer they can use at home. Only 29% of these pupils attained five good GCSE grades, compared 68% of those who had internet access at home.
Focus groups revealed that while internet safety is a particular concern for teachers and parents, pupils themselves are more comfortable with their online safety with almost three-quarters (72%) saying they feel safe online. A significant proportion of pupils (28%) had not been spoken to about online safety by their parent or carer.
Overall, almost nine out of 10 children (88%) said they liked or didn’t mind using computers inside and outside school. Children with this positive attitude to ICT did better in their GCSE exams than those who felt computers did not make life easier: 69% compared to 23%.
Celine McStravick, Director of the National Children’s Bureau in Northern Ireland, said: “Young People are often so confident in their use of new technology that we can forget they need our support to establish good habits. Our research shows that using a computer for homework can help pupils consolidate learning and do better in exams, so schools should be regularly setting homework that requires the use of a computer and the internet.
“Similarly, we need parents and carers to step in and limit excessive amounts of time spent gaming. If we support parents and schools to get this right young people will reap the benefits of using digital technology while sidestepping the pitfalls.”
‘ICT and Me’ is available at: www.ncb.org.uk/ictandme