Education Technology Displaces Literacy

This picture of a 3 year old girl in front of a laptop, is found on the home page of BC’s new educational plan advertising “individualized programs” for students Accompanying the push by education governments for increased use of computers with younger and younger children, is the recent government mandated return to work following strike action. As cyberschools rapidly grow in popularity (see below), it becomes all too clear of government’s plans for future education for young students. This short sighted thinking, that students can learn from computers, has already caused significant harm to children’s development and academic performance. Technology overuse in homes and schools has resulted in one in three children now entering the education system developmentally delayed, one in four are obese, and one in six with a diagnosed mental illness. Half our grade eights don’t have job entry literacy, and one third of students have difficulty learning, largely because they can’t pay attention. Behaviour and aggression are problematic, and consequent behaviour diagnosis and use of harmful medication on the rise. The ways in which society is choosing to raise and educate children with technology are no longer sustainable. This article is designed to bring awareness to the damage we are causing to children through unrestricted use of technology, in homes and schools, and is a call for a ban on the use of school-based technologies with developmentally vulnerable young children. Re-focusing on teaching the basics, along with improved access to movement and nature-based activities, will ensure sustainable futures for all children.

1. Technology is addictive

Engaged in an average of 7.5 hours per day sedentary technologies, our children are not achieving critical factors for development and academic success. To grow and succeed in this world, children need to move, touch and be touched, connect with other humans, and explore nature. We live in a society obsessed with devices, and in our need to connect to technologies, are disconnecting from our children at a rapid pace. Technology addictions are rampant in the adult population, and are becoming alarmingly common in children. In the absence of a tech-addicted parent, children are defaulting to forming attachments with devices. Think this is a joke? How successful were you, or your children, in your last attempt to take a “tech holiday” and reconnect as a family? Never tried? In the history of humankind, we have never seen children with addictions. The cost to the education, health and social governments to treat technology addictions, as well as addiction outcomes (developmental delay, obesity, mental illness, illiteracy), will be astronomical. We are only viewing the tip of a very large iceberg, and the time to act is now. The population on which to focus first is our developmentally vulnerable, ages 0 to 8 years. The place to act is through the organization and structure of our existing health units and schools. The action itself is to eliminate use of all education technology with the K to grade 3 population. They don’t need it, and this ban on the use of education technology will send a clear message home to parents that it’s not good for them. Don’t believe educational technology is all bad? Read on.

2. Technology causes attention-deficit and impedes learning

Research regarding detrimental effects of technology use with young children is vast, and should be considered when educators calculate risks vs. benefits of using education technology in the classroom. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, pediatric researcher from the University of Washington in 2011 found 9 minutes exposure to Spongbobs cartoon in a 4 year old population, resulted in a significant decrease in executive function. Dr. Christakis in 2004 found that for every 1 hour exposure of TV or video games per day resulted in a 10% increased incidence of attention problems at seven years of age. Gary Small, neurophysiologist and author of “iBrain, The technological alteration of the human mind” reported in 2008 that children ages 10-14 who used more than 4-5 hours per day of video games, were “pruning” neuronal tracks to their frontal cortex. The results? A recent study from China in 2012 by Fuchun Lin reports increased grey matter (non-conductive cells) in the frontal cortex of children who have video game addictions. Education and entertainment technology is essentially short-circuiting frontal cortex (known for impulse control), causing irreparable brain damage, and is making children attention deficit. Students who can’t pay attention are impulsive and cannot learn. Yet, in spite of what I term a “learning paradox” e.g. the more technology used the less likely children are to learn, our education government is advocating for increased use with younger and younger children.

3. Education technology doesn’t educate

Schools can challenge this initiative to increase use of education technologies by asking a simple question “Show me the evidence that these devices actually teach children, build literacy, expand knowledge”. There isn’t any (evidence), except what the technology production company has provided which is rife with conflict of interest. Teachers are the most effective instructors of children, they just need to get back to teaching the basics (printing, reading, math)…without computers! Evaluating the benefits of technology use in the classroom is not a task usually performed by the education community. I was recently asked by a K teacher at a workshop what I thought of SMART Boards. I asked the teacher what she used this device for, and she responded “To capture student’s attention”. “And then what?” I asked. She stated she wasn’t really sure what the SMART Board was doing in the realm of education, which is essentially the question she was posing to me. This teacher went on to state that possibly the SMART Board was teaching spatial concepts, as the children were manipulating shapes on screen. I told her spatial concepts are best acquired in space, and require the need of a three dimensional world, which is why many Chinese communities have gone back to using Abacus boards, a progressive line of thinking that has reflected back on proven teaching methods which are hundreds of years old. Shapes, letters, and numbers on a screen are mere symbols that are supposed to be representational, but of what in the eyes of a child? While Math Blaster might be beneficial for learning basic adding or subtracting, the student is just memorizing symbols, and when the student advances to more conceptual math, they don’t understand the underlying premise of space. While traditional methods may seem boring to many teachers, and technologies appear far more exciting, experimenting with unproven methods (no long term data) on a wide scale with a whole generation of students is questionable, to say the least.

4. Technology use is sedentary

Technology use is inherently sedentary, and anytime spent sedentary is detrimental to growth and academic performance. Technology poses significant risk for obesity, which has been termed an “epidemic” by Canadian physicians, along with accompanying diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. While we know movement improves attention, learning and behavior, educators and parents continue restrict necessary movement by placing children in front of screens. Health Canada should be at the forefront in educating the public regarding the risk of sedentary lifestyles. Posters, sponsoring unplug weeks, public service announcements on television, radio and internet, as well as child addiction centres are all desperately needed. We know 20 minutes per day access to nature eliminates adhd and improves autism, yet these two populations are heavily diagnosed and medicated, as well as frequently placed for extended periods in front of technological devices. With extensive research showing media violence causes child aggression, technology producers are pitching that education technology should mimic video games (or why not mimic Spongebobs?), as this is the type of technology that captures children’s attention. Adults are using children to advance their own agendas, and are placing the most vulnerable of our population in an extremely risky situation. Technology is the largest, most wide-scale experiment ever imposed on child populations, but no one seems to care, least of all our governments, who I might add, will just be passing the bill down to the tax payer.

So can this young girl on the BC Education Plan website actually achieve foundation skills for school entry while sitting sedentary, staring at a two-dimensional screen? In the absence of a parent or a teacher, will this young girl eventually attain literacy necessary for academic success? What message is the education community giving to parents of young children regarding technology by showing this image? These are important questions, which require careful, thoughtful answers. What can you do? Ask the question “Show me the evidence”. Balance risk vs. benefit, and stop high risk/dubious benefit technology use. Counterbalance technology use with access to movement, nature, touch and human connection – the four critical elements for optimizing child development and learning. Divert funds from technology toward playgrounds, the real epicenter for enhancing student attention and learning. Discontinue use of all school-based technology with children under the age of 12 years, they get enough at home. Proceed with caution, not with retrospect.

Please refer to the Fact Sheet located on the Zone’In website for research references.

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