Screens in schools: Asking the right questions


Australian classrooms hold the world’s record for the highest daily usage of the internet, and virtually every Australian student uses a computer at school, according to an OECD report. Yet our results in reading, maths and science have been declining for over a decade.

So are screens in school a good thing, or a bad thing?

The answer is an unequivocal “that depends.”

Which technology? In what classrooms? For which students? For what purpose? These are just a few of the questions that need to be asked in evaluating the pros and cons of screens at school - or any other educational technology.

It may surprise you to learn that there was a time in human history when the use of writing in the classroom was also controversial.

No less a thinker than the great Socrates himself was an outspoken opponent of introducing this “new technology” to the students of ancient Athens.

Written texts, he argued, would discourage debate, encouraging students to follow arguments rather than engage in them. He worried too about the power of the written word to threaten an individual’s right to privacy - some 2500 years before Facebook. Finally, Socrates warned that reading would weaken students’ ability to memorise and retain information. (What would he have made of Google?!)

Socrates was 100% correct in all of these objections. But by focusing on the negative impacts of literacy, Socrates failed to grasp the remarkable ways in which reading and writing would liberate students’ minds and enhance learning. As it happens, he had a particularly bright student who ignored his teacher and became an “early adopter” of the new technology.

His name was Plato.

If Plato and Socrates couldn’t agree about technology in the classroom, maybe we should be so surprised that educators and thought leaders find themselves at odds today.

Tomorrow, we examine the pros and cons of using digital devices in the classroom. What exactly is the relationship between screens and learning? Spoiler alert: #itscomplicated.

Don't miss the SBS Insight program "Screens and Schools" @ 8:30 5 June, or any time on catch-up, featuring Family Zone cyber expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin. 


Topics: EdTech, classroom management, digital learning, screens in school

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