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Why high-tech toys cannot replace real-life teachers

Santa's sack may have been packed with expensive, high-tech interactive toys that can teach young children to count and play alphabet games, but they should not be seen as a substitute for learning through human contact, warn researchers at Sussex.

The electronic toys, which are usually cuddly dolls or teddies with sensors that respond when squeezed or pushed, are supposed to encourage children as young as four to learn by themselves through play.

But the initial findings of a current study by computer scientists and psychologists at Sussex, together with the Institute of Education at the University of Stirling, have shown that many children do not interact with the toys in ways for which they were designed.

"The toys claim to be educational and to be able to engage your child in hours of interactive learning to hook people into buying them," points out Dr Rosemary Luckin. "But when we carried out a pilot study with four-year-olds and five-year-olds, we found a lot of children were happy just to squeeze the sensors without actually getting the toy to play a game. The toys can be motivating, but they shouldn't be seen as a substitute for spending time with your child."

Some of the toys,which can cost up to £50 each, also interact with computers and accompanying software designed to help children learn about maths, problem solving or spelling. Linking the toy and the computer can broaden a young learner's experience of technology, but the pilot study, which looked at Microsoft's ActiMate toys, showed that that children were less enthusiastic about using the software when the toy was taken away.

The study will also look at what children think and feel about the toys and explore the social impact of children as users and consumers of computer-based toys.

"We're not saying the toys are necessarily a bad thing," says Rosemary. "But parents would need to find out how much their child was able to engage with them first."


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Friday 11 January 2002


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