/ Technology

Back to school… with £3.2bn worth of tech

Child on laptop

Recent research has revealed that children will return to school with £3.2bn worth of tech in their school bags. It’s an astronomical amount, but it’s the stark change in attitude towards technology that’s got me thinking.

I only left school in 2005, but (and it may sound like I’m turning into some sort of Uncle Albert figure way ahead of my time), the difference between then and now is quite something.

During the war When I was at school, the idea of bringing expensive technology in with you was something that you (and your parents for that matter) simply wouldn’t consider. This was at a time when the iPhone had yet to kick-start the smartphone culture that we know today, and a tablet was still very much something you’d only see Star Trek’s Captain Picard playing with in the realms of science fiction.

At this stage, phones were a basic communication device, offering little besides calls and texts. My own parents’ attitude at this age was that there was no need for me to have one – after all, who would I need to contact? And why would I need to do so at school? The school agreed – if you brought a phone in with you it’d be confiscated quickly, a scenario that’d also involve you ending up in detention!

Tech in school bags

Just a decade on and attitudes have shifted – technology has been embraced to such an extent that we’re now actively encouraging the carrying and use of technology among our children.

According to the uSwitch survey I referenced in my intro, British parents are on average spending £270 on gadgets for their kids’ school bags, more than twice the amount as last year.

From smartphones and iPods, to tablets and laptops, the view has been flipped on its head in just ten years.

A connected world

So what’s brought about this shift in dynamic? After all, we got by OK before, didn’t we?

Phones are now connected to the internet at speeds a dial up modem could only dream of, improving to such an extent that the distraction factor is as high as it’s ever been, which only combines to make them an even more attractive proposition for potential theft.

Despite all this, we’ve accepted them as an integral part of our lives – our children included.

There’s seemingly little resistance from schools anymore, and many parents are reluctant to send their children out into the world without any means of contacting them. That’s certainly the case for one of the mums here at Which?

‘I feel much more comfortable knowing I’ve got a means to contact my daughter when she’s out and about – especially when she’s walking home from school. She’s actually got my old iPhone, so I can even keep an eye on where she is via GPS. I wouldn’t want her to go out anywhere without a phone on her.’

The idea of me going out with something as advanced as the original iPhone when I was at school would have given my parents nightmares, but now it’s become the norm for most school children.

Have you got children or grand-children returning to school in September? Are they armed with the latest smartphones, tablets and laptops?


I wasn’t allowed a mobile phone at all until I was 16 – and even then I didn’t have a smartphone until about 2011. I do find it a bit disconcerting and worrisome when I see very small children whiling away hours tapping at casual plant-based games on iPads.

While the rational person in me would hesitate to call it damaging without seeing hard research, it does lack the physical experience of changing and manipulating things in the real world that building a den or playing with Lego does.

Is anyone concerned by the lack of tactility and real-world interaction that the sudden shift to devices and ubiquitous video gaming seems to encourage? I’m just not sure.

I can see the advantage [but not the necessity] of a child having a mobile phone with them on their way to and from school, but is providing a smart phone a good idea?

Someone I know has a daughter going up to secondary school this year and the school has suggested that all pupils are provided with a phone. The mother has given her daughter a phone with a very limited range of functions and available numbers to call. There is also a facility for the parents to check the activity of the phone; I’m not sure how that works but there is clearly a concern that children might be led into misuse of the phone or run up high bills. I’m not sure I would go that far in restricting an eleven year old – a good parental relationship and guidance should be enough to provide reassurance, but there is the factor of peer-pressure to take into account. There is no question that not only is the phone itself a status symbol but also the use made of it is a form of one-upmanship leading to a tendency to compete.

Schools used to be so careful about social demarcations. The personal phone has leapfrogged right over that.

In the first line of my second paragraph I should have said “granddaughter” instead of “daughter”. While the grandmother has been quite relaxed about the child taking a mobile phone to school [perhaps in anticipation of some nice conversations?], the mother has been reluctant and had not allowed her daughter to take a phone to her junior school. But for the high school’s suggestion she would not have provided a phone now and her daughter might have become a social outcast I suppose. A different Conversation that was up this morning had the problem of a mother struggling to cope with huge bills that had been run up by her 15 year old. This must be a growing concern as children get drawn into conversations and other activities on their phones oblivious to the costs if they overstep their data allowances.

As to the necessity of having a phone on the way to and from school it all depends on what value is put on social contact; there is no practical necessity, and indeed phones themselves increase the security risk. As technology makes our lives easier it makes them more complicated. And a doting grandma doesn’t always help.

Mohammed says:
29 August 2015

Parents need to give these kids a life. I’m totally up for knowing where the kids are via GPS but for them to Play on their phones. Is quickly becoming a problem.

Technology has made them unnatural to outside. I’ve noticed it with my young cousins, who have over-protective parents.

When i tell my childhood stories of making dens and fixing bikes, they sit in awe.

My cousins have to tell each other what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour in the outside world. Quite a few times, they are wrong. This shouldnt need to happen. Let the kids find something to do when You, the parent, can’t do anything with them.

Hopefully smartphones and tablets will become cheap so that all kids can have them and no-one worries about theft. At one time calculators and watches were very expensive but look how that changed.

I sincerely hope that it does not become the norm for parents to track the movements of their children. That’s what we do with criminals. Maybe the kids should be tracking their parents instead. 🙂

When I was young I knew where I could find my mother – at home. Nowadays many parents are too obsessed with making money and often suffer stress from the pressures of their jobs. All that I would want to change from my childhood is that both parents should share the opportunity of looking after the kids and earning money.

I’m not sure that I would consider parents “obsessed” with making money. True, many are continually worried about the lack of it and the double income is now the only way to survive due to the self perpetuating spiral of double income, double house price, double mortgage. If parents had three personas house prices would increase to reflect this too. Obsessed implies seeking for its own sake rather than for necessity. Enough semantics, I too am grateful that I had a mum at home and were able to manage on dad’s income. How things have changed. The mobile phone obsession is obvious. It is almost a reflex action to reach for the phone. Walk down any street and observe how many children are face down and tapping away. The problem with school is that the phone (unlike the computer) is unnecessary for educational purposes. All those functions are better obtained with a larger screen and a keyboard and mouse. So the phone is purely for social interaction and for phone games. Put those in a classroom and teaching stops. Could the classroom be a signal free zone. No signal, no interaction, no temptation. There must also be a problem with phone theft in school, since these are prized possessions. Inappropriate content can be blocked so long as everyone has the same restriction. Get a whizz kid unblocking their phone or a parent who doesn’t know how to block it properly and children will receive extra curricula education that’s not on the timetable.
There was always peer pressure in school, better pen, better watch, smarter bike etc and I suppose the phone is no different.
With phones now so commonplace is doesn’t seem possible for schools to ban them, but they ought to be able to make them unusable during school time. The other problems will sort themselves out one way or another.

I doubt that there is an easy technical solution to block mobile phone use in the classroom. I’m more concerned about the adults who play with their phones when driving cars.

If tablets become so cheap that all children should have them for their school work, then surely the schools should just bulk-buy them and issue them as standard equipment.

School issued tablets could also be “locked down”, for safety and security, e.g. to prevent access to unsuitable websites and to prevent the downloading of inappropriate software.

I would hope that as well as being given an expensive smartphone, youngsters are being taught how to use a public telephone; they probably think it’s some obsolete bit of street furniture as seen in old films and that they will never have to use one themselves.

Public telephones are becoming an endangered species, John. I’ve seen them used as a book exchange and to house defibrillator. I have read about kiosks where you can charge your phone, though perhaps a flat battery should be treated as an indicator that children and adults should get out more. 🙂

Yes, and it is only because most of the old-fashioned red kiosks are listed structures [usually described as ‘iconic’] that many survive at all, but many are being handed over to their communities for innovative purposes so they are no use in an emergency [unless they contain a defibrillator]. Nevertheless, I would hope that grandparents do educate their charges in the use of this quaint apparatus and explain that they will work even when there is no mobile phone signal. There is probably an app that will show you on your smartphone where the nearest public call box is located. I wonder if the speaking clock is still free from a phone box. Certainly 999 is.

Apps to locate phone boxes appear to exist and could be helpful if you want to see the differences between a K2 and a K6, rather than just study the history of phone boxes online to write your school essay. If the reason for finding a phone box is because your mobile has been lost or stolen, or the battery is flat, an app won’t help.

Don’t ask BT to make calls to the speaking clock free from a phone box. They would not give you the time of day.

I taught in a Preparation for Employment course for a time and there was a problem with folk who had just left school spending time texting and not getting on with training, which was probably why they had not made much progress at school anyway and I know many schools ban these during lessons for obvious reasons.
Since you can access the internet on smart phones too I think there is a risk of access to pornographic websites. We had to put special electronic locks onto the computer systems to prevent this happening on our project, although I think access to the internet via a mobile was not possible in these days. There’s the added risk of cyber-bullying of course, but then bullying in one form or another has always been a feature of schools and using a mobile is just another option. There’s probably a case for some form of parental control on smart phone usage; it’s another potential hazard as well as an asset for anybody and not just teenagers.

I hope pupils are observing that their teachers are spending many hours at a stretch doing their job without making or taking any phone calls. Probably not . . . hence when they enter the world of work they are at a loss and get depressed because they cannot use their phone while working.

Kids as young as four are now becoming addicted to their iPads to the extent they require psychological treatment. See `telegraph.co.uk/technology – Toddlers becoming so addicted to iPads they require therapy`

Now that the genie is out of the technological bottle it appears there is no way back.

I read the article with interest. Is anything being done to warn parents of the potential consequences of allowing too much access to tablets at an early stage of development? And what is going to become of those children who will not receive psychological treatment? There are some disturbing implications here. It opens up some challenging ethical questions. The tablet might start as a pacifier but over time becomes the opposite.

I had to get my daughter a laptop for school but that was 10 years ago.

“Kids as young as four are now becoming addicted to their iPads to the extent they require psychological treatment. See `telegraph.co.uk/technology – Toddlers becoming so addicted to iPads they require therapy`”

Well, that story throws up a number of questions, really. Many very young children become ‘addicted’ to toys and become inconsolable if they’re removed. In a sense I’m unsure how that differs, other than iPads and the like are simply far more attractive, so one would expect the reaction to be that much more severe. One question it throws up for me is what were the parents doing by not encouraging the child to lead a fuller and more outdoor existence in the first place? And secondly, I’m very concerned when I see the rush for ‘therapy’. When did the human species become so frail and uncommunicative?