Four out of five teachers say today’s students are struggling to focus on their academic work, according to a major new Australian study - and the distractions offered by digital technology are likely to blame.
And with the vast majority of Australia’s children now learning from home and almost entirely dependent on devices, the problem of distractibility looms larger than ever, with the temptation of games, videos and social media only a click away.
The study, the first in the Growing Up Digital Australia series conducted by the Gonski Institute at UNSW, also found school students were less empathetic and less physically active than five years ago.
Researchers surveyed nearly 2000 educators across all school sectors. They were asked to comment on how students have changed over the past five years and to speculate why. Their findings shed new light on the social, psychological, emotional and educational impact on children using technologies for learning.
While 43% endorsed digital technology as an enhancement - an overwhelming 84 percent said screens were a growing distraction in classrooms, while over three-quarters (78%) noted a decrease in kids’ ability to focus on learning.
Eighty percent saw a decline in students’ empathy and 60% observed students spending less time on physical activity.
Mum of five Sonia Giaouris confirmed that it’s been a struggle for her kids, aged 4 to 10, to stay on task while doing school work on a screen.
Along with the experts, she's observed that devices can be terrific learning tools, but adds “I don’t think it is benefiting children when they say, ‘Hey Siri, what time is it?’”
The numbers of students with cognitive, social and behavioural difficulties has increased noticeably. Students appear to have more difficulty concentrating, making connections, learning with enthusiasm and increasing boredom in school.
- Growing Up Digital Australia
“What is happening with our kids now is the biggest educational experiment in history,” says Professor Pasi Sahlberg, the report’s co-author. “As adults, we have much to learn about their habits, and the benefits and pitfalls of screen-based technologies for them."
What parents can do to help
Sahlberg and Gonski Institute director Adrian Piccoli advise:
It’s not a question of whether technology is good or bad for our children, notes Piccoli. Rather, he says, "It is about making sure that children are exposed to the right technology for the right amount of time at the right time - not six or 10 hours a day or at 3 am.”
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