There is no doubt that our children will need excellent digital skills on entering the workforce or moving to higher study. Basic digital skills are also needed to access online learning, due to the covid-19 pandemic. 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. However, a growing body of international research has highlighted negative risks that are associated with high screen use. Much of this has been published only in the past 12 to 24 months, and is information that both parents and educators were not previously aware of.
International research has shown that overall, moderate use of 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, or around 25 minutes per day. Students who frequently use computers in schools had significantly lower educational outcomes.
High levels of device use both recreationally and in work settings have been associated with significant negative impacts on health and well-being.
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, and how to take action if you have concerns about your child's device use in school. Here are our recommendations, based on a summary of our 'Key research' findings.
Recommendations - during lockdowns
With children studying from home during lockdown, digital technologies can allow access to learning content, and connection. The government is sending digital devices to students to address a lack of access, with a focus on high school students - and these students do need to be the priority. While paper and online resources are available in New Zealand, some schools have chosen paper options only for Years 1 to 4 due to children's age and developmental stage, with online communication to check-in and connect as able.
Pasi Sahlberg and Adrian Piccoli (Professors of Education from UNSW) have advised that teachers, as much as possible, provide balance by designing learning activities with elements that don't require the use of technology, such as building, drawing, or communicating with others. Working to teach children safe and responsible use of technologies is also a priority.
Recommendations - going forward
Time spent on computers
Moderate technology use has been shown to have some positive impact on student outcomes, including obtaining digital skills.
Students with frequent computer use in schools have been found in the 2015 OECD report to have significantly lower educational outcomes. This result has been replicated in the 2019 Reboot Foundation report.
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 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."
Guidelines that have been developed by the Baltimore Digital Health Group (comprised of paediatricians and other health professionals), who advise their School Health Council in the US recommend:
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.
For older children, computers 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.
Alongside learning about digital technologies
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, i.e. e-reading for scanning and searching for information, print or consciously change the mode of reading for more complex articles (generally more than a page).
Schools should give print copies of complex fiction novels.
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.
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 and safety of device users?
2) Does our policy ensure the digital curriculum is followed or are staff inclined to use apps to teach core subjects?
3) Does our use of digital technology aim to go above and beyond what can be achieved with pen and paper?
4) Does our use of digital technology simplify learning?
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, high screen use has also been associated with significant negative impacts on health and development.
We recommend the formation of an independent School Digital Health Council, to act in an advisory role to the MOE.
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.'