There is no doubt that our children will need excellent digital skills on entering the workforce or moving to higher study. This website presents a summary of current research and expert information on the use of digital technology in schools, looking at both the benefits and risks this brings.
The use of digital technologies in education has created new opportunities for teaching, and can strengthen student learning. Digital devices can also expose young people to opportunities for social connection, support and useful resources. However, a growing body of research has highlighted negative risks that are associated with screen use, including risks to privacy, exposure to harmful content and cyberbullying.
Frequent and extended screen use is also linked to reduced educational outcomes, and negative impacts on health and well-being. Much of this research has been published only in the past few years and is information that both parents and educators were not previously aware of.
Large population studies (from New Zealand and overseas) have found that overall, moderate use of digital devices in education has the best outcomes - not only academically, but in gaining digital skills. That definition of moderate, while not a perfect target for all ages, far exceeds current levels of use even in many New Zealand primary schools - it has been defined (between various studies) as using computers 1 to 3 times per week, 'sometimes,' or for around half an hour per day. Students who frequently use digital devices in schools had significantly lower educational outcomes. Most countries have moderate use of digital technologies in schools, even wealthy countries.
We want our kids to have all the great educational opportunities that technology can provide, and we hope this site is a useful guide on how to get the best out of technology. If you have concerns about the way your child is using digital technologies in school, you can talk to their teacher or principal, and direct them to this website to find out more.
Here are our recommendations, based on a summary of our 'Key research' findings.
Using digital technologies to enhance learning
Digital devices can enable some learning opportunities above and beyond what can be achieved with traditional teaching methods. Digital technologies can support teachers learning, connections and access to resources. Computers and devices have potential to allow students to collaborate beyond the classroom, and to access to information and resources to support learning. The quality of media content (what kids are doing on screens), and context of use (how they use them) can effect both health/well-being and learning outcomes. Children's age and stage of development can also impact the effectiveness of technology, and older students potentially have more to gain.
'Some educational technology can improve some types of learning in some contexts'
Time spent on computers and devices
Along with the content and context of use, large population studies have found that duration of screen use can impact learning outcomes. Moderate technology use has been shown to have some positive impacts on student outcomes, including obtaining digital skills.
Students with frequent computer or device use in schools have been found in OECD reports from 2015 and 2021 (including New Zealand-specific data), to have significantly lower educational outcomes. Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) data shows that New Zealand primary school students who use digital devices in class to learn to read more than once a week, have lower reading enjoyment and scores than children who use devices less frequently. These results have been replicated in other large-scale studies.
Improvements only occur in certain areas of learning. Careful consideration is needed to use digital technology to its best effect.
The Reboot Foundation (2019) recommends that technology should be limited for younger students, and they note that health agencies have warned against early excessive computer exposure, both inside and outside of schools.
"Elementary (Primary) schools should be particularly careful, and leaders making policy for schools that enrol younger children should be wary about flooding them with technology. While it makes perfect sense for teachers to use technology for administrative purposes in elementary schools, policy leaders should steer clear of launching a large technology initiatives for very young students, given the recent research on the potential negative impact of digital devices."
For a high school student, no more than half the learning school day should be spent on computers (up to 2 1/2 hours).
Minimal computer use in educational settings for under 5's.
Between starting school and high school, computer time should increase gradually.
Classrooms should reflect a balance of learning modalities.
Homework to be given in digital and print form, to suit all learners and families.
Digital technologies should be embraced as the exciting field that it is.
Introduce children to skill-based use of digital technology such as coding, robotics, 3D printing, programming, animation, filmmaking.
Teach computer science. For younger children, computational thinking can be taught with non-digital games and puzzles, and free teaching resources are available.
Alongside learning about digital technologies
For older children, computers and devices can provide the ability to create rich content such as images, video and interactive presentations. Inquiry-based learning may be an effective way to use computers.
See 'What's going well' for further information and resources on implementing technology effectively in the classroom.
Teach handwriting and reading in print form only, until fluency is achieved (primary years). This can lead to improved literacy and digital reading skills in the future.
After this point, educate children on the best choices of reading or writing for different modes of learning. Reading online may be best for scanning and searching for information. Research shows that most young people will understand and remember more from print copies of complex text (more than a page), than online versions. Consciously changing the mode of reading online (slowing down) may also support comprehension.
Consider the effectiveness of digital products before using them for learning. Currently there is a lack of good quality research on the effectiveness of digital technologies in education. Much of the research that does exist 'comes from those who are trying to sell it'.
'A full discussion needs to take place on the age-appropriateness for the introduction of digital technologies in schools, as well as on necessary prerequisites in terms of children’s capacities and skills before fully developing their digital competencies.'
Digital technologies can support learning and inclusion for children with special needs. Assistive technologies can aid children with learning difficulties, working with their strengths, to get around their challenges.
Some children will be at higher risk of developing problematic internet use and may require strategies to promote healthy transitions between preferred and other activities.
Provide regular breaks from the computer, to allow a visual change of focus and movement.
Consider teacher training in the ergonomics of computer use so they can support students to have a healthy ergonomic learning environment.
Paper versions of homework and text should be available for all students, if task allows.
Recess and break periods should be device free, outdoors when possible, and support the development of gross motor skills.
The use of extrinsic rewards, including those embedded in software, must be carefully considered against the need for students to develop intrinsic motivation such as pride in skill development, personal improvement or the love of reading and learning.
Consider whether parents should have an option to opt out or require written permission for their child to partake in reward-based educational gaming at school.
Foster face-to-face human interaction and opportunities for community building, (Clement & Miles, 2018).
Consider these questions when reviewing your school's current practise
1) Does our policy consider the health, safety and privacy of device users?
2) Do teachers and administrators consider the level of evidence supporting digital products before they are used in the classroom?
3) Does our use of digital technology aim to go above and beyond what can be achieved with pen and paper?
Schools and families must work together to promote health in this digital age.
Digital technology has a growing role in education, and has great potential to support learning. However, frequent and extended screen use has also been associated with negative impacts on health, development and learning.
We recommend the formation of an independent School Digital Health Council, to act in an advisory role to the MOE.
'The digitization of education should be geared towards a better implementation of the right to education for all, where it is demonstrated that it brings significant added value. In this regards, it is important to understand the profit-driven agenda of digital technology lobbyists and companies'
Additional references not included in hyperlinks:
1) Clement & Miles, (2018). Screen schooled: Two veteran teachers expose how technology overuse is making our kids dumber. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
*The recommendations above are a summary of the 'Key Research' pages of this website, references can be found under 'Key Research.'