Screens in Schools – Are ‘tech-centric’ teachers addicted to technology?

As the debate rages about the use of cell phones, tablets and computers in schools, one unaddressed question is “Are the teachers that are pushing more and more technology on students, themselves addicted to screens”? To what extent do teacher’s desire to use technology influence their decisions regarding screen use with students? This article intends to highlight what is really going on behind the closed doors of classrooms and poses common sense solutions toward improving education and learning for all students.

Frequently I hear ‘tech-centric’ teachers and principals chastise ‘traditional’ teachers who choose not to use screen-based teaching. The tech-centric teachers cite that traditional teachers are being old-fashioned, non-progressive, or just plain scared of technology. What tech-centric teachers fail to realize is that their colleagues are following tried and true, evidenced-based methods of instructing their students designed to achieve literacy and academic success. Traditional teachers are continuing to teach, and their students are continuing to learn, whereas in the tech-centric classroom, teaching and learning have stopped dead in their tracks. Without any evidence that technology does anything more than entertain students, whole districts have moved to essentially replace teachers and books with devices. Unsupervised and largely unrestricted, students are spending inordinate amounts of time playing videogames, watching porn and movies, and using social media (including cyberbullying) when they could have been learning. While students actively oppose using screens for teaching and learning, with one study showing 92% of students preferring books, paper, and pen, no one appears to be listening. Against all common sense, parent protests, and student refusals, schools march forward with escalating technology use, apparently blind to the catastrophic damage they are wreaking on students across the globe.

Numerous observations and conversations with these tech-centric teachers yield interesting data. Many teachers who are new to the field, report that when they attended university, they did not receive instruction regarding how to teach basic literacy (printing, reading and math), nor were they taught how to manage problematic behaviors, but instead were guided to employ the use of screens. Not knowing HOW to teach literacy or manage classrooms, grossly limits a teacher’s confidence and skill, resulting in teachers defaulting to the much easier and more pacifying screen, whether to teach or just for entertainment. The number of classrooms who daily watch a movie or cartoons not just during lunch, but during class, is mind numbing. While screens do keep students quiet, are they learning information or skills that are transferable and useful is a salient question. Best practice teaching and learning is interactive, requires critical thinking, is unpredictable, and requires student’s imagination and creativity be challenged…none of which are found when passively watching screens. Another trait noticed in tech-centric teachers is what appears to be screen addiction, where the teacher is unable to control their own use of screen devices. Constantly checking emails, texting, Facebooking, and even playing videogames have been observed, frequently. What appears obvious, yet never spoken about in schools, is that while the teacher is on their cell phone, student’s own screen content and durations of use are unsupervised, resulting in the student switching from active learning to entertainment. This unrestricted use of porn, videogames, social media, and cyberbullying is far more common in students who themselves have screen addictions.

Another reason for high screen use in schools touted by ‘tech-centric’ teachers is that students need their phones to text with parents during the day. Really? Parents texting their children during school time disrupts precious learning opportunities, as well as creates a dependent and insecure child. School provision of online books and online assignments to students have created havoc in many homes who are striving to manage their child’s screen use, as the student says they are doing their homework, but are really using screens for entertainment. While kids need ‘down’ time and activity choice, they don’t need 9 hours per day of passive entertainment. As children and teens use cell phones 97% of the time for entertainment purposes, switching to educational content on the same device becomes problematic. If students were actively learning while at school, homework should consist of applying this learned information, which should not require time online. Numerous studies have shown, and teachers report, that use of computers for learning is fraught with frustrations including online textbooks repeatedly going offline, and online homework being a waste of time for both students and teachers due to non-operational or too hard to understand computer systems.

As schools continue to incorporate more screen teaching, learning, and entertainment into student’s daily schedules, both students and teachers are demonstrating increased incidence of screen addictions. In 2018, The World Health Organization classified Gaming Disorder as a mental illness. Schools don’t give cocaine to drug addicts, or alcohol to alcoholics, yet schools readily give out screens to gaming, porn and social media addicts, and let them do these activities at school. Isn’t this wrong? Knowing that 50% of children and teens self-identify as being screen addicted should at the very least warrant teachers judicious and selective use of these devices. With 35% of adults reporting they spend too much time on their phones, do we want to trust ‘tech-centric’ teacher’s choices about their rising and unsupervised use of screens with students? If adults are having a hard time managing their own screen use, how can we expect children to do any better.

Other considerations regarding consequences of screen overuse are increased learning difficulties from multitasking and attention deficit from use of fast paced screen media content. When students spend a large amount of their school day distracted by screens, this is wasted time that could have been spent learning. Teachers have such a small amount of time to teach to children; using mindless screen content in place of potential learning almost seems criminal. Additional concerns are rising depression and suicide in teens attributed to overuse of screens. Do schools really want to contribute to the escalation of these problematic issues by continuing to overuse screens in schools?

What can schools do now to stop overusing screens? The following technology management initiatives can be easily implemented to ensure teachers get back to doing what they do best – teaching, and students can begin to learn.

  1. Ban all cell phones from schools. The whole country of France implemented this initiative in Sept. 2018. This will require schools do the following:
  • Get textbooks and homework assignments offline e.g. purchase real books and hand out assignments on paper.
  • Tell parents that if they have a message for their child to leave it with the school secretary.
  • Provide counselling assistance to teachers with cell phone addiction.
  1. Don’t use technology for teaching, learning or entertainment until printing, reading and math literacy has been achieved (at least grade 3).
  1. Don’t use any technology with screen addicted students or teachers. The underlying causal factor for addictions is failure of primary attachment. People with addictions need people, not screens. Don’t use goggle docs in class. Get a standing table and gather students around for interactive discussion and idea creation.
  1. Stop use of all entertainment-based technologies in schools including movies (documentaries are an exception), cartoons, social media, etc. and create a cyberbullying policy for when students are not on school grounds.
  1. Create a Technology Management Policy for your school. Start with surveying students and teachers regarding what type and amount of screen content is currently being used in schools to attain a baseline from which to make technology management decisions (see below).

School Technology Management Policy Survey

Students and school staff: please write in the total amount of minutes you spend in respective box using each of the following technologies while in classroom, on school grounds, or at school events e.g. fieldtrips.

Click here for Downloadable pdf.

If you’re a teacher or parent in support of building foundations for literacy, consider signing the Refuse to Use petition.

Above article and Technology Management Policy Survey was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child” book. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca; website: www.zonein.ca; blog: www.movingtolearn.ca.

© Zone’in Programs Inc. Sept. 2018