We need to educate children on appropriate use of digital media
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.