Social Mobility chief wants to see national campaign against phones for toddlers

Katharine Birbalsingh told MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee that toddlers who have tablets are less likely to take an interest in reading.

Technology Stock – Social Media
Technology Stock – Social Media

The newly-appointed head of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission has said she would like to introduce a national campaign urging parents against giving their toddlers mobile phones.

Katharine Birbalsingh told MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee that toddlers who have tablets are less likely to take an interest in reading, and she would like the benefits of children being brought up without them to become “part of the national consciousness”.

The new chairwoman, who is also headteacher of a school which has been dubbed the strictest in the country, added that she wishes to “win the hearts and minds” of parents and teachers.

Nursery stock pictures
Giving young children phones makes it more difficult for them to engage in reading (John Stillwell/PA)

Ms Birbalsingh told the House of Commons committee: “My initial thoughts are that I would like national campaigns on things like phones and not giving them to your toddler.

“I would love it if we could get to a point where, (the issue is considered) in the same way that we know that you should eat four or five fruit vegetables in a day, or drink eight glasses of water a day.

“We know this because the campaigning on this has been so clear, and it’s happened over time – years and years, it’s everywhere – it just becomes part of the national consciousness.

“I would love it if things like ‘don’t give your child a phone’ were to become part of the national consciousness.”

She added that giving young children phones makes it more difficult for them to engage in reading, because a “book that’s black and white and flat” is less interesting than a tablet which has “all sorts of flashing images and colours and adverts”.

Ms Birbalsingh said the best way to tackle disparities between education prospects for children from poorer versus wealthier backgrounds is to “improve teaching” including by enforcing discipline, rather than rolling out laptops.

She said: “You talk about the digital divide and I think there’s actually been a bit of a misunderstanding in the country.

“Which is that, the assumption is that the more digital access you have as a family, the better off you are in terms of accessing education.

“And I don’t think that’s true, I think there’s a lot more to accessing education and I don’t think the solution is providing more laptops for families.

“I understand why the Government is pushing out laptops, but that is to miss the nuances of learning, and to miss how a child best learns.”

Ms Birbalsingh was made chairwoman of the Social Mobility Commission after previous head, Dame Martina Milburn, resigned in May last year, telling Boris Johnson the role needed expanding to effectively tackle inequality issues.

She has been praised by Liz Truss for maintaining “high standards” as the founder and head of Michaela Community School in north London, a free school which has been described as Britain’s strictest school.

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