Study finds a majority of people are concerned about small children needing to be online to run many educational apps aimed at them, which has been an increasing trend in recent years often including apps mandated by schools.
London, UK. January 19, 2022. A new study by Droid Mobile Consultancy found most members of the public are concerned by the increasing trend of educational apps requiring children, even those as young as 5 years old or less to be online in order to use the apps.
A decade ago educational software aimed at young children was primarily in the form of either ‘pay for download’ mobile apps, or desktop apps for PC and Mac which once downloaded would work happily with no internet connection, sometimes still being distributed by on DVD and requiring no internet connection at all. A child left alone with an iPad or laptop that’s not connected to the internet isn’t going to stumble across inappropriate content (bar any that’s been left on the device by a careless user of course), whereas with an internet connection it’s all too easy for them to open a web browser or the YouTube app.
Overall 55% of respondents to the survey expressed concern, with women more concerned than men. Levels of concern were quite consistent across age ranges up to people in their mid fifties, rising substantially above this age.
Much current educational software requires an internet connection for a multitude of reasons including recording usage data, business models based on micro-transactions or monthly subscriptions and designs that involve a user account for each child. Uses for such accounts range from allowing schools to select content for children and view their progress, through to those that exist simply for collecting potential customers to market to.
Another factor is the growth of educational apps and platforms delivered through the web browser, this type of app seems to have gained particular traction amongst primary schools despite requiring children to be online the entire time they are using the apps. This may be due to providers being especially successful at selling in to schools or the fact that the apps are easy to access on any device with a browser, meaning busy staff don’t need to spent time installing and setting up software, and the school has less complaints from parents who are unable to run the software on their devices. Unfortunately this often means parents have to closely supervise their child while they do their homework using such an app, which became a bigger problem for parents trying to balance working from home with kids home learning during the pandemic.
There are strong legal protections against companies gathering of children’s personal data provided by regulations including COPPA in the USA and GDPR in the EU, these are adhered to by almost all large tech companies. These regulations however offer no protection against children finding or viewing disturbing content anonymously, also there are many websites out there that allow children to interact online in an unmoderated way with other users, some of which sit outside the jurisdictions of the regulations.
The UK government’s guidance on child online safety and age appropriate content states that parents should ‘Consider a walled garden environment in which all content is pre-moderated before children see it and content generated from third parties is limited or restricted’, and the Australian government’s parental advice states “It is a good idea to protect younger children from online risks such as encountering harmful content, (or) contact with strangers”
No good reason
There is no good reason an educational app should require an ‘always on’ internet connection unless it involves real time interaction with teachers or other students, any data that needs to be synchronised from submitting work to teachers to analytics can be synchronised when the parent chooses to go online after the child’s app session, and micro-transactions such as buying extra content should only be targetted at parents rather than the children anyway.
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