Screen-time, learning and literacy: What every digital parent needs to know

Too much screen-time has eroded the academic performance of Aussie students over the past five years - and devices “pervasively penetrating the classroom” are among the key reasons why. 

So say the authors of the Gonski Institute’s new Growing Up Digital Australia study, which surveyed 1000 teachers nationwide.

While acknowledging some educational benefit, most saw classroom technology as a major distracting force.

"About 90 per cent of teachers in Australia who have answered our survey believe that, compared to three to five years ago, the number of students in their own classrooms with psychological, social or behavioural difficulties and challenges has increased,” according to the study’s lead author, Professor Pasi Sahlberg.

Distraction and attention

Nearly every teacher surveyed (95%) reported that the number of students arriving at school tired has increased. And the impact on concentration and focus has been devastating.

Students interviewed this month for the ABC Four Corners program were quick to admit that their online habits were wreaking havoc with their attention spans.

As one Brisbane high-schooler explained, "I might have a book that's really interesting … but maybe just hearing the buzz of a notification pop up, you just pick up your phone, you check it, you're like 'oh’.

"Once you've clicked on it, you're gone."

Key findings gonski

Findings from the Growing Up Digital Australian survey of teachers nationwide

Impact on literacy

Other research has shown that, by age 13, up to 30 percent of an Australian child’s waking hours will be spent on a screen. And the impact on literacy and vocabulary is increasingly clear, note experts. 

The evidence from our eye movement researchers is that skimming is the new normal, and we're becoming browsers and word spotters."

The internet is changing the way we read, they say - and making the indepth engagement needed for novels and other longer works more and more difficult to achieve.

Notes UCLA cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, "We're left with a more short-circuited brain. The evidence from our eye movement researchers is that skimming is the new normal, and we're becoming browsers and word spotters.”

five go on a digital detox

Many adults will have noted the same tendency in themselves. But the difference, says Professor Wolf, is that we have developed deep-reading processes over our lifetimes, and can, with effort, return to them.

Our digital children are different. Most have never acquired the habit of reading books. And that means they have never forged the neural pathways need to think critically, to enter imaginatively into another perspective or worldview.

“They will not know what they don’t know,” Professor Wolf explains.  

In an effort to reverse these trends, Victoria recently introduced a blanket mobile phone ban in all state schools, and Western Australia will do the same in 2020. In New South Wales, phones are banned in primary but not secondary schools.

Keep on top of the latest trends and research that affect your digital family, and create a home where children thrive - with Family Zone. 

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Social Media, literacy, classroom management, digital learning, screens in school, phone ban

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