May 21, 2014 12:53 pm

New Canadian website helps parents pick right apps

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TORONTO – A new Canadian website is trying to help empower parents who let their little ones spend hours playing with a smartphone or tablet.

A recent survey by the non-profit group MediaSmarts suggested that a majority of Canadian kids in grades 4 through 11 already have their own cellphone.

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Another poll by the industry organization BookNet Canada found almost two-thirds of Canadian kids aged three or four have access to a phone or tablet in their home. And 50 per cent of parents “agreed strongly” that mobile apps could be good educational tools.

With smartphones and tablets increasingly used by parents as both babysitting aids and educational tools, Edululu was launched by the Toronto-based French-language TV channel TFO to sort some of the better learning apps from the duds.

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More than 360 apps available on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play marketplace have been rated so far, in English and French, and Edululu’s reviewers boldly aim to post write-ups on every new release of educational mobile programs.

While there’s still plenty of debate about how young is too young for children to be using phones or tablets, and whether they’re too distracting to be used in classrooms, the TFO felt Edululu would be a valuable resource because so many kids are already using mobile devices all the time, said president Glenn O’Farrell.

“To be very candid with you we’re at a stage in this that … we’re still grappling with what it means for a child to learn from an interactive screen,” said O’Farrell.

“We’re all grappling with that, the degree that technology is pervasive in the lives of children, but I think we all recognize there’s no turning back, it’s omnipresent, and the question of how we manage it and how we deal with it as responsible parents, teachers or caregivers of younger children is key.”

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So far, about 60 apps have received a failing grade with a score of 2.5 out of five or less, while 11 have been given a perfect score.

O’Farrell said the site’s reviewers are still getting a feel for what makes a poor, good or great app with educational value.

“Clearly we’re struggling with the idea of perfection and we know that perfection doesn’t exist but we want to try to develop this organically and intelligently with our users,” he said.

“It’s an incremental, iterative process we’re learning from and we’re also learning from the feedback we get from users.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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