In Germany, New Doubts About Digital Learning For Kids

A recent study shows overwhelming agreement that it's unnecessary to offer pre-school children digital training. And nearly all parents agree on strict limits to screen time as kids get older.

In Germany, New Doubts About Digital Learning For Kids
Johanna Bruckner

MUNICH — Her hands run over the high-gloss magazine cover, and as she turns pages she gets a few paper cuts on her tiny fingers. In a 90-second YouTube clip, a father and professed Apple fan lets his then 1-year-old daughter play with an iPad and various magazines, but the latter evidently just frustrate her. The video shows how digital media are present in the daily lives of even very small children.

The Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research recently conducted a survey of where digital training stands in German preschools and elementary schools. Researchers included 1,500 parents of young children all across Germany, along with preschool and elementary school teachers. What emerged was that neither parents nor teachers see preschool as the place to teach children about computers, tablets and smartphones. On the contrary, they fear that doing so would overwhelm the children.

Almost to the one, parents indicated that TV still plays a more important role for their children than digital devices. Among parents of elementary school children, 94% said that their children watched TV in their spare time. The figure was 86% for preschool kids. Books and audio media (cassettes, CDs, MP3) came in second and third place with both groups, with computers, tablets and smartphones coming in fourth. Among parents of elementary school children, 67% said their children regularly watched films and videos, but only 25% of preschool kids did.

Age is the decisive factor in using digital media: More than half of elementary school kids play computer games in their free time while only one-in-four preschool children do. The picture is similar with cell phones, smartphones and Internet use: The older the child, the more present digital media in their leisure activities.

According to moms and dads, about 70% of children under the age of five have no daily contact with digital media, but that figure falls to 34% for children over five. Nearly one in five children of elementary school age spends more than an hour a day with a computer, tablet or smartphone. Over 82% of children over eight years of age use the Internet.

Photo: Devon Christopher Adams

Screen time matters

But most parents believe how much time their children spend watching TV or with digital media is important, regardless of age. All but 10% of parents said they controlled how much time their kids spend with screens of any kind. About 65% of parents said they tried to impose limits on computer time and specifically Internet time, and nearly as many said that it was important to them to know what computer games their kids were playing and what Internet pages they were visiting.

At least 62% of parents said they tried to influence their children's use of cell phones or smartphones. Fourteen percent of children under eight have their own mobiles, though smartphones in this age group are a rarity (3%). Virtually every German household has at least one smartphone, which means that Internet access is widely available.

Digital media are a part of the daily lives of even very young children, but not all parents feel competent when it comes to computers, tablets and smartphones. One in five parents said their familiarity with digital media wasn't very good. Not even half the parents were well informed about learning software or apps for kids. Nevertheless, participants unanimously saw the digital training of kids to be a parental responsibility.

Respondents saw the role of schools in digital training as progressively important the higher the grade. But less than 10% expected children to be taught about digital media in preschool. Priorities for preschoolers lay elsewhere, with the main focus on preparation for entering school.

Participants took a critical stance toward digital media. They were convinced that children already come into contact early enough with computers, tablets and smartphones, and they therefore rejected the idea of early digital training. Parents also said they feared too much information on the Internet could overwhelm children. More than a third of teachers and 26% of parents feared that using digital media could cause a child's native talent to atrophy.

One in three teachers actually said their knowledge of digital media wasn't very good, and more than half were unfamiliar with the possibilities that digital media offer to preschoolers. But the more familiar teachers said they were with digital media, the more they were inclined to use it in the classroom.

What was abundantly clear from the survey was an overall awareness of the growing importance of digital media, with 37% expressing an interest in improving their digital knowledge.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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