When back to school means back to screens

For more and more kids, this year’s back-to-school backpack will include a school-mandated device - and more and more of their classroom time will be spent on a screen. How concerned should we be?

It’s an all-too-familiar sight at primary schools. When the teacher invites the class to enjoy some free time before recess, instead of turning to books, puzzles or games - or even chatting with their neighbours - kids pull out their devices.

Technology is a part of life - and in our children’s generation, it will play an even more central role. So it’s no wonder that an overwhelming majority of parents accept that screens have a place in the classroom, too. 

But concerns are growing that screens are being over-used - and their impact on learning under-examined.

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Loss of skills?

Evidence that kids are losing basic communication skills, including handwriting and active listening, has alarmed parents and educators alike. And when devices are inadequately monitored or filtered, the online world can become a dangerous distraction from learning.

And then there’s the worry that screens simply encourage kids to focus on image versus substance. Mum Ann Marie Douglass tells the story of her daughter’s elaborate online project on Cleopatra.

The child had decorated her creation with fancy fonts and colours - but there was little evidence she had actually learned anything about the topic.

“It was very fancy, but when I asked her questions about Egypt, she just couldn’t answer them,” Douglass told the Washington Post. “I wanted to see her writing and acquiring more knowledge.”

cleopatraParents also worry about their children’s eyesight, when hours of extra screen-time are added at school. The link between close work on screens and myopia or short-sightedness has attracted increasing research in recent years.

Inappropriate material

Then there’s the very real risk that kids will view pornographic or violent material when using school-issued or school-mandated devices that are not properly protected with effective cyber-safety software.

Turned out the little boy and his friend had taken screen shots of the “naked ladies that they liked” and saved them to their devices. 

One mum told the Post of being called to her 6-year-old’s school after other kids had reported seeing images of topless women on his iPad. Turned out her little boy and his friend had taken screen shots of the “naked ladies that they liked” and saved them to their devices. 

For all these reasons, some parents in the US are demanding that schools reduce their dependence on digital devices, and provide “low-screen” learning alternatives. 

Some states in the US are even considering requiring state schools to obtain professional medical advice about appropriate use of learning devices. 

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Limits and bans

In Australia & New Zealand, concerns around cyberbullying and excessive social media use - among other issues - have led several states to ban personal devices entirely for primary school students, and severely limit access for Year 7 to 12s. 

Karon Brookes, principal at Ocean Reef High School in Western Australia, which has just enacted a statewide ban, told ABC News that the ban not only reduced classroom disruption, it encouraged positive interaction outside of class.

“We also noticed this growing noise in the yard,” she said. “Students were actually talking, laughing and engaging with each other.”

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Social Media, cyberbullying, back to school, online pornography, classroom management, digital learning

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