Does playing video games harm young children?

A new study has looked at the association between playing video games and young children’s mental health and cognitive and social skills.

Published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the study used data from the School Children Mental Health Europe project, conducted in six European countries (Germany, The Netherlands, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Turkey). More than 3,000 children aged 6-11 took part in the study in 2010. Parents were asked how long their child played video games each week, provided demographic information, and completed a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ, a measure of mental health status) for the child. Teachers also completed the SDQ for each child, and evaluated the child’s academic performance and motivation at school. Children completed Dominic Interactive, a computerised assessment tool for mental health status.

Results showed that factors associated with video game usage included being older, a boy, and belonging to a medium-sized family. Having a less-educated, single, inactive, or psychologically distressed mother decreased time spent playing video games. The results were adjusted for child age and gender, number of children, mother’s age, marital status, psychological distress, and other demographic characteristics. This showed that high video game usage (more than five hours each week) was significantly associated with higher intellectual functioning, increased academic achievement, a lower prevalence of peer relationship problems, and a lower prevalence of mental health difficulties.

Source: Is Time Spent Playing Video Games Associated with Mental Health, Cognitive and Social Skills in Young Children? (2016), Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

One tongue or two?

Concerns that a multilingual learning environment may confuse students and harm their learning are unfounded, according to a meta-analysis by researchers at the University of Luxembourg.

The review investigated the effectiveness of bilingual programmes for academic achievement in language-minority children in Europe. Similar reviews have been conducted in North America, but not previously in Europe.

The meta-analysis combined data from five European studies and revealed a small positive effect (g=0.23) on academic achievement, including reading, for language-minority children educated bilingually compared with those who experience submersion programmes (which use only the majority language).

The authors say that their analysis supports the importance of bilingual education. They note that the small number of included studies limit the extent to which their findings could be generalised to other settings. They call for further studies and closer attention to the size of the effects.

Effect sizes in the analysis are in line with previous meta-analyses in the United States, such as those of Slavin and Cheung, which also found small positive effects in support of bilingual programmes when compared with monolingual education.

Source: A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of bilingual programs in Europe (2014), Review of Educational Research

Older siblings benefit younger ones at school

A discussion paper published by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Germany, has linked older children with an improvement in the grades of their younger siblings.

The researchers looked at information from the UK’s National Pupil Database, and examined GCSE results between 2007 and 2010, which provides data on 220,000 siblings. The researchers controlled for any effects that might be caused by the children being from the same family or going to the same school. They found that an increase in the test scores of an older sibling of one standard deviation led to an increase in the corresponding test score of the younger sibling of 2.4% of a standard deviation. For each exam grade improvement of the older sibling – for example from grade B to A – the younger sibling’s exam marks increased by 4% on average.

The effects doubled when children attended the same school. For families on low incomes, living in impoverished neighbourhoods, or where English is not spoken at home, the effect was even higher – 6-8% of a standard deviation increase in test scores of the older sibling.

The authors suggest that older siblings may play an important role in providing education-related information, particularly in families where parents have less access to this information.

Source: Sibling Spillover Effects in School Achievement (2014), IZA

Monitoring inspections help head teachers to focus

A new report from Durham University forms part of a comparative study to measure the impact of school inspections on teaching and learning in eight European countries.

This report describes the results from three years of data collection in England, which ran from January 2011 to December 2013. Each year head teachers in primary and secondary schools were asked to complete an online survey. The survey included questions on educational quality and change capacity in schools, changes made in the quality and change capacity of the school, inspection activities in the school, the school’s acceptance and use of feedback, the extent to which inspection standards set expectations and promote self-evaluations, and choice/voice/exit of stakeholders in response to inspection reports. The survey results were used to create a number of scales, such as capacity building, school effectiveness, setting expectations, and accepting feedback.

The authors found that on all the scales used, in the first two years of data collection, schools that received their main inspection and an extra monitoring inspection scored higher on average than the schools that received only a main inspection. In the third year, this was also true on almost all scales. A number of these differences (particularly the scales where schools were commenting on their improvement activities compared to last year) were large and statistically significant in the first year of data collection.

Source: Years 1, 2 and 3 Principal Survey Data Analysis: England (2014), Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring, Durham University.

Breaking the cycle of disadvantage

This policy brief from the RAND Corporation examines the impact of child-targeted interventions in early childhood education and care (ECEC) as well as initiatives to widen access to higher education in Europe, and their impact on social mobility in later years. It provides an overview of research on the topic, discusses various policies, and describes a number of case studies on different programmes and practices.

One example presented is the UK Aim Higher initiative, which focused on children from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in areas characterised by low participation in higher education. The aim of the initiative was two-fold: first, to raise the aspirations of potential candidates, and second, to develop the abilities of under-represented groups so they could apply to college. According to the brief, research suggests that the programme appears to have delivered some improvements in exam results, retention, and progression to higher education. However, there appears to be little evidence that it was successful in influencing participants’ attitudes towards higher education.

Overall, key conclusions of the brief include:

  • In the context of economic uncertainty, investing in high-quality ECEC appears to be an effective evidence-based social policy tool, although it should not be considered a panacea.
  • The level of ECEC provision is very unequal across the EU: to be effective, it needs to be of high quality.
  • One way to break the cycle of disadvantage would be to develop ambitious indicators and policy goals that link ECEC provision for under-represented groups to access to higher education.

Source: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage: Early Childhood Interventions and Progression to Higher Education in Europe (2014), RAND Corporation.

Citizenship education in Europe

This report from the Eurydice network summarises how policies and measures relating to citizenship education have evolved in recent years. Citizenship education has gained prominence in teaching across Europe, with 20 of the 31 countries (EU Member States, Iceland, Norway, Croatia, and Turkey) dedicating a separate compulsory subject to its teaching.

The report focusses in particular on curriculum aims and organisation; student and parent participation in schools; school culture and student participation in society; assessment and evaluation; and support for teachers and school heads.

Citizenship features on the curriculum in all countries, but the authors say that more needs to be done to improve teachers’ knowledge and skills for teaching it. In general, citizenship education is integrated into initial teacher training courses for secondary education in subjects such as history and geography, but only England and Slovakia offer training as a specialist teacher in citizenship education.

Source: Citizenship education in Europe (2012), Eurydice