The question is whether school children should spend more or less time using computers in classes. The National Physical Activity Recommendation and the Australian Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that children of school age (from 5 to 17 years old) not be involved in sedentary activities such as using a computer for more than two hours per day.

On the other hand, children need to be computer literate to survive in the modern world. This poses a dilemma for teachers and school administrators. Should the children be given more time to work on a computer, to make them more familiar with computer usage, or should their computer time be cut to a minimum to satisfy the health and fitness guidelines?

I have no way of knowing how much time the average student at an average school spends using computers. Some would, no doubt, be below the maximum recommended time and others would be above it. No doubt the amount varies widely, particularly between the early and later school years.

I suspect that the students in high school (Years 8 to 12) are the most likely to exceed their daily limit. Also, it must be taken into consideration that most children will get some exposure time at home, which, of course, is beyond the control of the teacher. Thus assessing the actual time of exposure for any one student becomes problematic, and the means of controlling it become even more problematic.

The problem would obviously be most acute at those schools where each student has her/his own lap-top or there is a computer lab where they are encouraged to do as much work as practicable. In these cases I suspect that students will use the computers for well above the recommended time.

These are the children who need to be taught to limit their computer usage. Also, it must be taken into consideration that many, but not all, children will be using a computer at home, probably more for playing games than serious work. Those children who have access to a computer at home are probably already getting the maximum recommended exposure and shouldn’t have any time on a computer at school.

Those who haven’t got a computer at home are eligible to get their full two hours at school. This makes it difficult to know how much time each individual student should have. Times would need to be tailored to suit the individual. Unfortunately, that might be seen as discriminatory, so is probably not an option.

I suspect that there is no simple answer to the problem of how much time students should spend using computers at school, but it is something that teachers should think about and about which they should maybe take some action. I leave this article with some questions to ponder. Is computer literacy more important than the health costs?

Should students be encouraged to use computers more to improve their expertise with them or discouraged from using computers to reduce the health risks? These are not easy questions to answer.