We need to ed­u­cate chil­dren on ap­pro­pri­ate use of dig­i­tal me­dia

South Wales Echo - - YOUR VIEWS -

THIS time last year, I made about 20 New Year res­o­lu­tions on this page (and man­aged to keep about four).

In­spired by this won­der­ful suc­cess, I thought I’d stick to one res­o­lu­tion this year; one that I think should be shared with par­ents of school age.

I write down and ex­plain this res­o­lu­tion here for ther­a­peu­tic pur­poses if noth­ing else, be­cause it’s an area as a par­ent I am fail­ing in and, as a head teacher, feel in­creas­ingly frus­trated that we are not do­ing enough.

Here it is: I will try my very best to ed­u­cate my own chil­dren and the chil­dren in my school to use dig­i­tal me­dia ap­pro­pri­ately and to de­velop self­con­trol and self-reg­u­la­tory habits when us­ing their mo­bile/tablet/com­puter/Xbox etc.

I know I rant a lot about this but I firmly be­lieve it’s af­fect­ing at­tain­ment in schools and young peo­ple’s health.

In my house it’s a con­stant source of nag­ging and ar­gu­ment.

I’m sure we are all con­stantly look­ing for ways to reach com­pro­mises with our chil­dren and in school there is con­stant dis­cus­sion with pupils about their us­age (es­pe­cially in class), but are we win­ning?

I’ll say from the out­set – I am against ban­ning the use of mo­biles in schools.

I of­ten have peo­ple (in­clud­ing my wife) say to me: “Why don’t you just ban them from the school? Lots of other schools do.”

For me this is an easy so­lu­tion. It would make it eas­ier for teach­ers and re­sults might even rise.

How­ever, I think this is wrong and goes against what I be­lieve is the pur­pose of schools, i.e. ed­u­cat­ing and pre­par­ing young peo­ple to func­tion ef­fec­tively in so­ci­ety and flour­ish in their adult lives.

We need to de­sign schools around the needs of pupils, not teach­ers.

Like it or not, mo­biles, tablets and the web are part of our lives now, it’s too late to go back and in­tro­duce these de­vices and the world­wide web in a dif­fer­ent, bet­ter planned way.

As schools, surely we have a ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­ity to fo­cus on those as­pects of life and so­ci­ety which have a ma­jor in­flu­ence on the qual­ity of our lives – pos­i­tive and/or neg­a­tive. We do it with lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy, and with wider sub­ject ar­eas such as science.

Across the UK, we half-heart­edly ed­u­cate young peo­ple in other ar­eas which can have a ma­jor im­pact on their lives, such as health and drugs, sex and ca­reers ed­u­ca­tion (these take a back seat to the ma­jor sub­jects, how­ever) and right at the end of the top­ics queu­ing to have a place on the cur­ricu­lum is ap­pro­pri­ate use of dig­i­tal me­dia.

We teach stu­dents how to use in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy and we do some ed­u­ca­tion around safe use, but even the lat­ter is sparsely taught as a topic.

If I was to sum up our ed­u­ca­tion of “safe use on the in­ter­net” in schools across Bri­tain, it would be: “We’ve done safety on the in­ter­net for this year – TICK! Now let’s move on to some­thing else.”

Rather than al­low­ing safe use to be em­bed­ded into all of our prac­tices in schools, we spend lots of money lock­ing ev­ery­thing down by us­ing good fil­ter­ing sys­tems.

Wouldn’t it be far more ef­fec­tive to al­low open ac­cess to all web­sites in schools and spend the money on very good mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems, which pick up on in­ap­pro­pri­ate use?

This would open up op­por­tu­ni­ties for school staff to dis­cuss (and if nec­es­sary ap­ply sanc­tions) with re­gards to the in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of cer­tain sites, the dan­gers of giv­ing away per­sonal in­for­ma­tion or just as im­por­tant – pro­cras­ti­na­tion.

Trou­ble is, I’m not sure if par­ents would agree to their child hav­ing open ac­cess to ev­ery­thing in school.

But then look­ing at it an­other way, isn’t it bet­ter this hap­pens in a school which is a rel­a­tively safe en­vi­ron­ment and where in­ap­pro­pri­ate use can be picked up on and dis­cussed (real-time ed­u­ca­tion!)?

I be­lieve this is prefer­able to your child gain­ing ac­cess in un­mon­i­tored en­vi­ron­ments (which they will), with­out them be­ing ed­u­cated.

The same prin­ci­ples ap­ply to us­age and in­ap­pro­pri­ate us­age such as be­ing on a game dur­ing a les­son or study time.

If we sim­ply ban our chil­dren from us­ing mo­biles or such like, then we only post­pone the in­evitable day when they are in work with no good habits or skills to re­sist the dopamine-fuelled rush, which oc­curs when they open a new screen.

Have a look at the sta­tis­tics for job losses due to in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of phones or the web dur­ing com­pany time.

Ed­u­ca­tion into ap­pro­pri­ate and con­trolled use can only hap­pen ef­fec­tively when in pos­ses­sion of a de­vice.

There is no point in try­ing to tell a young per­son how to use a dig­i­tal de­vice ap­pro­pri­ately, if their use is banned.

Part of this ed­u­ca­tion has to in­clude self-mon­i­tor­ing and reg­u­la­tion, so that good habits and self-con­trol can be de­vel­oped.

Take the de­vice away, and all the young per­son is left with in their ears is dire warn­ings, which over time turn into a mean­ing­less nag­ging drone for the young per­son.

I read a good book re­cently called Sapi­ens by Yu­val Noah Harari.

In it, he tells the story of homo sapi­ens and de­scribes how as hu­mans tran­si­tioned from be­ing hunter gath­ers to farm­ers dur­ing the agri­cul­tural revo­lu­tion, there could well have been a point when hu­mans sud­denly stopped in their tracks and said: “My God what have we done?”

Tech­nol­ogy had ad­vanced, but at what cost? Longer work­ing, longer hours, more dis­ease, wars, dic­ta­tors, rules that re­strained, less time for cre­ativ­ity and leisure.

The world is in the midst of a dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion/com­mu­ni­ca­tion revo­lu­tion.

This is bring­ing huge ben­e­fits in terms of ease of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and mak­ing many as­pects of our life eas­ier and con­ve­nient.

How­ever, chronic eye strain, sleep dis­tur­bance, wasted hours, on­line harass­ment (much eas­ier than the old face-to-face ap­proach), iden­tity theft – the list goes on – de­mand that we give much more time and thought to ed­u­cat­ing the in­her­i­tors of this revo­lu­tion.

The de­vel­op­ment of and rais­ing aware­ness of ap­pro­pri­ate use of dig­i­tal me­dia needs to be up there along­side the de­vel­op­ment of lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy both in school and in the home. For me at home, I’ve just bought an app called Moment, which can record how much time the whole fam­ily spends on cer­tain apps. No way they’ll let me use it, but I’ll try.

I’ll fin­ish with a quote I read re­cently: “Never be­fore has a gen­er­a­tion so dili­gently recorded it­self ac­com­plish­ing so lit­tle.”

Let’s start try­ing to change that.

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