Gaming, not social media, linked to poor exam results


Frequently playing video games can undermine a child’s performance in their GCSEs, yet social networking seems to pose less risk, according to new research.

The ‘ICT and Me’ study of 14-16 year olds in Northern Ireland, found that only 41 per cent of children who reported using a games console or portable games player a couple of times per day achieved five good GCSE grades, compared to 77 per cent of those who played games rarely.

Yet despite social media being a more popular activity than gaming, with 81 per cent of young people going online to do this daily, many for several hours, the study found no link between intensive social networking and poor performance in exams.

The research, published by the National Children’s Bureau, is the first ever long-term study in Northern Ireland of how a child’s use of information and communication technology (ICT) impacts on GCSE attainment.

The report, funded by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, confirms that young people spend a significant time online each day, with four in ten young people spending four hours or more online in the year they take GCSEs. However, much of this time is spent on recreational activities with many young people (43 per cent) spending less than an hour each day using a computer for homework.

Pupils who spent around three hours every day using a computer to do homework achieved the best exam results, with 79 per cent achieving five A* to C grades in their GCSEs. But those who spent no time on homework, or who spent more than three hours on homework, did considerably worse with only 57 per cent getting five good grades.

Access to a computer at home was not an issue for the vast majority of pupils taking part in the study, but there still remains a small proportion, many of whom are from poorer families entitled to Free Schools Meals, who are placed at a considerable disadvantage by not having a computer they can use at home. Only 29 per cent of these pupils attained five good GCSE grades, compared 68 per cent of those who had internet access at home.

Focus groups revealed that while internet safety is a particular concern for teachers and parents, pupils themselves are more comfortable with their online safety, with almost three-quarters (72 per cent) saying they feel safe online. A significant proportion of pupils (28 per cent) had not been spoken to about online safety by their parent or carer.

Overall, almost nine out of ten children (88 per cent) said they liked or didn’t mind using computers inside and outside school. Children with this positive attitude to ICT did better in their GCSE exams than those who felt computers did not make life easier: 69 per cent compared to 23 per cent.

e-Learning Update