We start the school year in 2022 with excitement and hope, while planning for disruptions due to students and teachers isolating. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted some of the benefits of screen use, and it has also highlighted limitations. Digital technologies have allowed access to education for many students, while lockdowns have also highlighted the importance of kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) learning. Research in Ontario (analysing a similar length of lockdown to Auckland) found that school closures have accelerated inequities in educational outcomes, and were also associated with increased risk to mental and physical health. While a minority of students preferred the online experience, others have reported screen fatigue, low motivation and difficulty staying on task.
So what can we do to support our tamariki through this pandemic and beyond?
For 2022 Sensible Screen Use would advise embracing the field of digital tech, learning new skills and using technology to achieve learning above and beyond what can be achieved without it, while re-evaluating use that has been shown to be associated with poor outcomes. In preparing for potential disruption, advice from the Gonski Institute is for teachers to give learning tasks offline where possible, to allow a balance of learning modalities and to reduce screen time.
Despite this, for many New Zealand students, starting school will mean high screen use.
While some schools have balanced and moderate use, others at even primary level have digital teaching models with near ubiquitous device use in the classroom. New Zealand adolescents have among the highest use of screens in the classroom in the world, as well as recreational use at home, averaging 42 hours per week, pre-pandemic. New Zealand primary students also have very high screen use in class by global standards, with the highest device access and yet lowest reading scores, measured from the most recent Progress in International Reading study.
While New Zealand has been keen to achieve world-leading innovation; to ensure digital equity and improve educational outcomes, there are signs that the use of digital teaching models to achieve this are being further questioned, as well they should following the release of a Ministry of Education report in 2021. This report analysed Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from New Zealand students, and looked at the impact that specific online tasks had on educational outcomes, as well as time spent online.
The report found that most types of devices were negatively associated with PISA scores, even after controlling for student factors. In addition, schools who reported that they did have capacity for using devices; that teachers had access to resources on how to use devices and that teachers had the skills necessary to integrate these with instruction, demonstrated lower performance on the PISA tests compared to students in schools without those capacities.
Browsing the internet for schoolwork was the only activity positively related to PISA scores; all but using emails were negatively related. While learning apps were associated with poorer outcomes, these remain commonly used at prima
Recommendations for this younger age group, such as those from Professor Maryanne Wolf from UCLA, include learning core skills in analogue form at primary level until fluency is achieved, alongside digital skills such as coding, robotics and programming.
This certainly should give us pause to reconsider the way devices are being used in the classroom, and there are schools responding.
Within the first week of term, an Otago school banned smartphones, citing the report above and noting that parents could still contact children as needed via the school office. Smartphone use has the clearest association in all research with reduced educational outcomes for students, with the most vulnerable students facing the greatest harm.
Digital skills and access remain extremely important, and with a year of potential disruption ahead, considering screen use in class may seem overwhelming. Therefore this blog will end with excellent advice from a recent article by Dr Samantha Marsh and Dr Alex Muntz. In a play on Michael Pollan’s famous dietary quote “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants’, Alex and Samantha break down a complex issue, in a complicated time, to give simple advice.
Use digital technology. Not too much. Mostly positive content.
For more information and references see www.sensiblescreenuse.org