The kids are more anxious and less prepared to learn and communicate and it could well be down to their use of digital devices, but that coexists with the vast inquiry based learning opportunities that leveraging devices can deliver.
The questions should centre on how to use digital devices in a positive way and there needs to be more work done, maybe a set of research based guidelines for the Australian setting needs to be generated.
The First Phase of the Growing Up Digital report from the Gonski Institute which surveyed almost 2000 teachers and school leaders across Australia makes for some unsettling reading and underlines what many have noticed first-hand about kids who are always online; there are mental and physical consequences for their constant exposure to digital devices.
Teachers say most students have lost the ability to focus, are less empathetic and spend less time on physical activity. Nearly four out of five teachers said they saw a decrease in students’ ability to focus on learning tasks, 80 per cent saw a decline in students’ empathy and 60 per cent observed students spending less time on physical activity.
A school principal is quoted in the report: “There is increasing anxiety among students, some cases are severe. Twenty-five years ago, this was very rare, with one or two students in an entire school suffering anxiety. Now it is common to have several students with depression and anxiety in every year group.”
The online world is often a cruel place and that is a definite contributor to the amount of mental health issues that are being exhibited in schools.
Blanket bans might not be the way forward as the digital world is not about to go away, instead of a digital device being handed to a kid though, a more informed process should be set in place.
After all, 43 per cent of teachers and principals claim that digital technologies enhance teaching and learning and teachers think that technology can be particularly helpful to students with special educational needs, 60 per cent of teachers believe that technology has potential to positively contribute to learning of these children.
As the writers Pasi Sahlberg and Adrian Piccoli put it “One thing is obvious based on our data: We all have a problem. The problem is not technology and media that comes through it. It is our own inability to be able to understand the benefits and the perils of using digital devices safely and responsibly. Lack of proper understanding the scope and depth of this issue has led to trying quick fixes to complex problems by simply banning digital (internet) technologies in schools and at homes, hoping that the problem would just go away. There is a great risk that it won’t and that actually, things will only get worse.”
The process, the authors believe should focus on helping children to learn responsible, safe and healthy ways of living in the digital world. Purposeful education about how to use and live with digital technologies responsibly should be accessible.
Families, parents and caregivers need to be included in the solution and the next phase of the report will focus on parents and grandparents who have critical agency in the issue of how much digital exposure children are able to receive.
Image Phones by Richard Leeming under flicr CC attribution license