Part one in the Screen Tips series Screen Tips for Tots is the first of a research referenced series on the impact of screen technologies on child body and brain development. Written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of the book “Virtual Child”, Screen Tips will provide parents, educators and […]
In an average month, I receive 10-15 emails from teachers who express grave concerns regarding unrestricted use of technology in schools (see below email from a teacher in Maryland). These emails not only report problematic issues with personal device use such as cell phones, but also overuse of entertainment media including cartoons and movies, as well as dubious use of non-evidenced education technology (edtech). The bulk of these emails indicate pressure is being exerted on teachers and principals by district superintendents, school boards and education government to use more technology and employ less of the traditional “tried and true” evidenced based teaching methods. Technology initiatives are not ‘suggested’ to teachers but are ‘enforced’, either directly by telling the teacher what technology to use, or indirectly through refusal to fund books and other non-tech teaching tools. Not having access to books has resulted in teachers and principals asking students to bring their own personal devices to school e.g. cell phones, tablets and computers. Use of these devices as learning tools require internet access causing significant management issues when students continually access long durations of inappropriate content including violent video games, pornography, sexting, and bullying. Technology corporations such as Microsoft and Google Education are advising school boards and governments regarding technology usage (see International Society for Technology in Education), posing significant conflict of interest and misuse of faulty industry driven research. While edtech inherently offers ‘promise’ for student learning, current mismanagement and total lack of supporting research indicates ‘peril’ for both teachers and students. This article offers schools guidelines to ensure students get what they need to grow and succeed, prior to use of potentially harmful technologies.
The past decade was marked by rising use of mobile technology by children in homes and schools, with studies showing concurrent decline in child physical 1,2 and mental health 3. Our children have never been sicker than they are today, yet few parents or teachers realize the connection between overuse of technology and poor health. One in three children now enter school developmentally vulnerable 4, one in four are obese or overweight 5,6, one in seven have a diagnosed mental illness 7, and one in ten are addicted to technology 8. As problematic behaviors associated with technology overuse escalate, classroom management becomes increasingly difficult, yet schools continue to increase unrestricted student technology use. In 2002/14/16 and in 2010 the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society respectively released policy stating the following technology limits: no technology exposure for 0-2 years, 1 hour/day for 3-5 years, and 2 hours/day 6-18 years, yet the average child uses 4-5 times that amount of entertainment technology before they even get to school. Additional school-based education technology usage is estimated to average 1-3 hours per day. Schools and administrations have not only sanctioned escalating usage, but are encouraging teachers and students to use more and more technology. Choosing to ignore policies put in place by two of the world’s largest pediatric research organizations who represent all the pediatricians in North America, is not only unethical and unprofessional, but could be considered a form of neglect and/or abuse of a very vulnerable population, children.
Creating technology management policy for schools is long overdue, and much needed to protect students not only from physical harm, but also from wasting valuable human resources and time spent on what is considered by many educators a “dead end”. Ensuring that students attain foundational basic literacy skills prior to grade 3 is paramount and urgent. Using only evidence based edtech which shows solid long term and efficacious outcomes after grade 3, is a necessary best practice standard. Removing all cell phones and other personal technology devices from school environments, and reinstatement of books and chalk boards, is not only what students request, but is also an initiative which is backed by years of solid research. Keeping students safe and promoting healthy learning environments, should be first and foremost every schools mandate and mission. Literacy by Grade 3 is designed to bring forward much needed questions and discussion by teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and education governments who want their students to succeed.
Below are five Literacy by Grade 3 considerations containing research evidenced facts which can be used to guide schools toward better technology management, as well as judicious use of edtech and entertainment media in school settings. It is recommended that each school district develop best practice management for use of technology in schools. Reducing the perils associated with student technology use, allows for improved understanding and access to the promise inherent in education technology. Ensuring printing, reading and numerical literacy by grade 3, will create the necessary literacy foundation for eventual student success.
- Prohibit Use of Cell Phones in Schools
Use of cell phones in schools has risen steadily since their inception in 2010, and management of this technology by teachers is becoming increasingly problematic. Students are accessing inappropriate content on their cell phones including video games, pornography, Facebook, texting, sexting, and cyberbullying. Studies show multitasking (using multiple devices at one time) reduces student productivity 12 and is harmful to physical and mental health 13. Having a cell phone on the desk during class even though not in use, has been shown to reduce grades 14, and 92% of students report that when studying to achieve optimal concentration and memory, they prefer books to screens 15. Cell phones emit what is now determined to be harmful radiation 16 which is linked to cancer as well as problematic behaviours 3 in children and youth, with observed growing trend to refer these students to medical professionals to diagnose and medicate 17 these behaviors.
- Demand Edtech Research Evidence
Edtech has no long term studies, is not evidence based, and lacks proven outcomes 24. Industry driven edtech studies which report positive outcomes, are rife with conflict of interest and bias resulting in misinterpretation and misrepresentation of data. Edtech requires reliable and reproducible government or university conducted studies which meet government determined ‘high quality research criteria’, and prove not only short term benefits but also long term efficacy to qualify for use in schools. OECD reports that countries with the highest PISA scores use no more than 1 hour of edtech per day (China, South Korea), and those with the lowest PISA scores use the most edtech 23. Canada dropped out of the top ten PISA rankings in 2012, with no improvement in 2015 status. Termed the ‘Learning Paradox’ e.g. the more technology you use it, the less likely you are to learn, indicates that today’s students are quite possibly only as smart as their device. Until quality long term research proves edtech is an effective educational tool to promote and achieve learning outcomes, schools should stop educational funding for non-evidence based, industry driven education technologies.
- Promote Healthy Learning Environments
Foundations for child development and learning include movement, touch, human connection, and nature. Technology use prohibits child engagement in these 4 factors, and consequently has proven to be detrimental to development and learning 21. Edtech is sedentary, overstimulating and isolates students from their teachers and peers resulting in impaired development, sleep deprivation, mental illness, attention deficit, lack of self-regulation, and few social skills 17. Counterbalance initiatives to use of edtech should include engagement in movement and nature activities. Research shows movement not only improves cardiovascular fitness, but also builds strong core needed for motor coordination, which in turn improves printing and reading literacy 25,26. 45 minutes of exercise using equipment such as treadmill, bike, elliptical, and rowing machines prior to doing school work, have proven to improve grades, mood, attention, and ease of learning 27. Access to as little as 20 minutes per day of “green space” 28,29 found in nature, has proven to significantly reduce adhd and improve attention. Standing instead of sitting, outdoor class, gym station obstacle courses, and challenging teen playgrounds 30 would effectively counterbalance edtech, and enhance development, behavior and learning.
- Promote Literacy
Remember the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic? Teaching printing is now passé, and reading and math instruction are increasingly relegated to 2-dimentional screens. Yet whenever a child is tested prior to age 12 years, on any subject, they’re expected to be proficient with printing. When children learn to print, they create a visual memory for later letter recognition for reading. When they practice printing over and over, their printing speeds get fast, allowing them to free up their brains for spelling, sentence production, and math. Not teaching children to print ensures illiteracy and academic failure. If adults were told to print all day every day in a foreign language, but not given proper instruction or teaching in the mechanics of written language production, how long would they continue this insane task, yet this is what we expect of our students? Students who do not demonstrate subconscious motor planning for letters and numbers by grade 3, are very slow printers, hate school, and resist all subjects requiring printing output. Edtech is inadequate in achieving foundations 22 for printing, reading, or math literacy which require sensory, motor and spatial activation. Should children achieve developmental foundations for literacy, self-regulation, social skills, and attention ability by the end of grade 3, approved and safe use of edtech is appropriate by grade 4.
- Ensure Student Safety
Safety standards for children in schools regarding screen time and wireless radiation either do not exist, or do not concur with current scientific evidence 9. The rapidity of child brain and body development poses increased risks for children, indicating immediate measures be taken in school environments to protect children. There are no studies which demonstrate wireless radiation endemic in mobile technology is safe for humans, with mounting research now indicating harm 10. Cancer incidence in teens has risen 25% over the past 38 years 11. In 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer at WHO categorized wireless radiation 18 emitted from cell phones, tablets, routers, cell towers etc. as a Group 2B (possible) carcinogen. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration’s 25 million-dollar National Toxicology Program preliminary findings released in May 2016 showed increased incidence of cancer 10 in male mice and rats following 10 hour/day wireless exposure. Recent systematic study of cancer epidemiology 19 research demonstrated 1.33 times greater brain cancer risk with cell phone use greater than 10-year duration when low quality or biased studies are eliminated. Until proven safe, the Environmental Health Trust’s Precautionary Principle 20 calling for removal of wireless radiation from schools must be applied.
Email from Patricia Patterson to Cris Rowan May 2017
I have read with a heavy heart the articles about too much technology for our young people. I am a retired school teacher, and have done some substituting over the past three years, and teachers are greatly disturbed by the fact they are not allowed to teach. The students are to discover all answers, all information, and this is from 4th grade on in the Washington County Public Schools, Hagerstown, MD on their electronic devices.
ALL students have I-pads in middle and high school. Teachers are not to teach, there are no textbooks, students have assignments given when teachers are out, but they choose to play games, take pictures, watch you tube, and air-drop text to their buddies. I am learning to walk around and make sure they at least start in the app where they are assigned. They have no keyboarding skills, since it was a 3rd grade class or maybe 4th that was just never reinforced, so they hunt, peck, and you know the rest yet they are expected to type almost every assignment they do.
Aggression toward adults as well as classmates is the common behavior. Basic Skills are frowned upon. You google when you don’t know something, but most of the time, who cares, is their attitude. They add 7 and 5 with the calculator in middle school, it is rarely the known facts unless parents have seen to it that it happens.
Patricia goes on to request Cris Rowan to write to Hagerstown district superintendent to “put a stop to this madness”. Letter completed May 27, 2017.
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Cris Rowan BScOT, BScBI, SIPT. Pediatric Occupational Therapist and biologist. Clinical Instructor at Pacific University Portland Oregon for OT doctoral course on impact of technology on children. Member of the Institute for Digital Media and Child Development – Parental Education and Clinical Research CAOT Sensory Processing Disorder – BC Rep. Performed over 300 workshops for health and education professionals and parents. Published book Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children, as well as numerous articles in international journals. Presented at numerous national and international conferences. Cris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.