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© 2019 Sensible Screen Use in Schools

To email the Ministry of Education (MoE) – please copy and paste the text below or write in your own words using the supplied email link here:

To whom it may concern,

 

I am writing to ask the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the New Zealand government to take action on managing screen use in schools. The students of our school are spending more time on screens than is recommended, and they will have a greater chance of doing better both academically and emotionally if guidelines are set.

 

The digital curriculum launched by former Education Minister, Nikki Kaye, has been designed to ensure students learn computer science principles, and to use digital technology to create digital content, including learning about electronic components and techniques to design digital devices. 

 

The MOE were very clear that the curriculum means learning about devices, not on devices, and that meeting the curriculum does not mean more device time, particularly in primary schools.

 

The new (digital curriculum) content covers two key areas, computational thinking and designing and developing digital outcomes. It has been designed to be flexible, so it can respond to new developments and technologies as they emerge.


“Computational thinking is about understanding the computer science principles that underlie all digital technologies, and learning how to develop instructions, such as programming, to control these technologies.”


“Designing and developing digital outcomes is about understanding that digital systems and applications are created for humans by humans, and developing knowledge and skills in using different digital technologies to create digital content across a range of digital media. This part of the curriculum also includes learning about the electronic components and techniques used to design digital devices."


Nikki Kaye, June 2017<https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/digital-curriculum-changes-connect-young-people-future>

 

Below is a video link to the workshops the MOE ran in 2017 about implementing the digital curriculum for schools:


https://education.govt.nz/ministry-of-education/consultations-and-reviews/recent-consultations-and-reviews/digital-technology-consultation/#watchvideo

 

Digital technology can offer new ways of learning, and opens up many opportunities for our children. The latest OECD report on the use of digital technologies in school, 'Students, computers and learning,' agrees that digital fluency is important for equal opportunities for employment and study on leaving school. However, they found that there is a limit to the amount of technology use that can achieve this.

 

The report analysed data from 64 countries when reviewing this topic.

They found that students who used computers moderately, defined as 1 to 2 times per week, have some improvements in educational outcomes compared to students who rarely use computers. They noted improvements only occurred in certain areas, and there were no significant improvements in reading, science or mathematics.

 

Students who frequently used computers had significantly lower educational outcomes.

 

Testing was done both on paper, and digitally. This is highly relevant, as 'needing to be prepared for digital assessment in high school and university' is one of the reasons given to parents for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies for young children. Singapore, with only moderate use of technology, came out top for digital skills. Among the seven countries and cities with the highest internet use in school, three had significant declines in reading skills, including New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

 

In addition, some children are more at risk of problematic internet use, and BYOD policies in schools are causing wider issues in the community for many families with managing screen time. I question whether BYOD is necessary to achieve the goals of the digital curriculum, particularly at primary and intermediate school level. 

 

Smartphone use in school has also been highlighted by educational expert Dr Pasi Sahlberg, as the main reason that New Zealand is slipping down the PISA ratings. Evidence seems to back this up, with research showing that removing smartphones from school increases performance by 6.4%, or by 14% in more disadvantaged students, (Beland & Murphy, 2015). While an outright ban may be difficult to police, some teachers believe this action, combined with education about responsible use, would set a tone and an expectation for students. 

 

In summary, while research has shown that there is potential for moderate, purposeful use of digital technology to enhance learning and digital skills, the digital curriculum for many schools has become about screen learning, which is neither moderate nor evidence-based. Even primary age children can be clocking up more than half of their working school day on devices. Not only has evidence found that this can disadvantage learning, but an increasing number of international studies are associating high levels of screen use in children and adolescents, with negative impacts on health and well-being. While more objective and scientific research is desirable, action is required now about managing screen use in schools by children and adolescents. Please follow this link for more information www.sensiblescreenuse.org

 

I am asking the Ministry of Education to take the following steps:

 

  1. To create an independent Digital Health Advisory Board for Schools, to advise the MOE on guidelines to limit harm from the use of digital technology in schools.
     

  2. Provide best-practise guidelines for schools.
     

  3. Take meaningful steps to educate the public about the risk of screen over-use in young people and about the guidelines that have been set.

 

Thank you.