Man is Still the Most Extraordinary Computer of All. John F. Kennedy

Those who know me well understand that I am not a great fan of students having laptops and iPads as part of their school resource list. . I am well aware that the world has changed and technology is now a part of our everyday life and we must adapt to it in order to keep pace with the ongoing evolution of the digital world. I also understand that jobs are heavily reliant on computer technology and we must educate our students for such jobs now and in the future.

However I cannot agree with the fact that laptops and iPads are always necessary in the classroom. In fact the global report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that “ education systems that have invested heavily in computers have seen “no noticeable improvement” in their results for reading, maths and science in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests.”

Additionally The OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleicher says: “If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classroom.”

“Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately,” he adds.

After reading this article I felt somewhat justified in the stance I took as principal in opposing that the school to which I had just been appointed become a ‘laptop school’. The decision had been made by the previous administration and had the backing of some parents.

Apart from significant budgetary issues that would impact negatively on the school finances, I believed there was an equity issue at stake in that some parents could afford to buy the resource for their children whilst others could not. That just doesn't happen on my watch for ethical reasons.

Another issue of concern to me was, and remains to be so to this day, the competency of teachers in using digital devices. Let’s face it – not all teachers have the up-to-date knowledge about teaching students how to use computers effectively so what happens in those classrooms? Unfortunately the students rely on ‘searching’ for answers from the reliable Google rather than “researching” or perhaps using their devices for recording information through a keyboard thus missing out on the vital development of fine motor skills in the form of handwriting (which is important despite the fact that we often hear that handwriting is no longer a necessary skill). On other occasions the expensive laptops and i-pads may sit and wait until the students have some ‘free time’ whereupon they are rewarded with being able to ‘play’ on their device. Good use of teaching and learning time? I don’t think so. Teaching is about human contact and interaction. We are not doing our job by teaching them through machines.

The question also remains that should it be incumbent upon the classroom teacher to teach students how to use digital technology? Unless they are specialists in the field and it is their prime role in the school (which is very worthwhile and of great assistance to staff and students) then why do we place yet another responsibility on our teachers who already find they do not necessarily have enough hours in the day to teach the subjects for which they are trained.

Matthew Jenkin published an article in The Guardian that reads:

“In the heart of Silicon Valley is a nine-classroom school where employees of tech giants Google, Apple and Yahoo send their children. But despite its location in America’s digital centre, there is not an iPad, smartphone or screen in sight.

Instead teachers at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula prefer a more hands-on, experiential approach to learning that contrasts sharply with the rush to fill classrooms with the latest electronic devices. The pedagogy emphasises the role of imagination in learning and takes a holistic approach that integrates the intellectual, practical and creative development of pupils.”

The above paragraph makes my heart sing! Teachers are the most valuable resource in the classroom. It is their responsibility to build relationships with their students and design and deliver engaging lessons that are suited to each child, through personalised, individualised and differentiated learning. Where is the important interaction between teacher and student occurring, not to mention monitoring of student’s work as they learn, if the teacher and students are sitting at their respective laptops or iPads or the students are looking at a screen?

On a more family oriented note, I was recently approached by a neighbour who expressed her concern to me that her son, who was once an outdoor sports loving adolescent, had taken to speaking in monosyllabic words when at home and couldn't wait to get to his room every day to play the latest free on-screen game, ‘Fortnite.

When she asked me what could she do about the situation the answer was easy. As I had said to so many parents at my schools over the years, you are the parent. Take the device off him and tell him to go outside and play. Yes, he may not talk to you for awhile, yes, he may sulk and probably slam a few doors but it won’t be long before he's playing outdoors with the other kids and back into his sport – and guess what? I was right. He visited me a few days later to let me know he was playing outdoors with is mates and having a ball!

The same goes for children who are "babysat" by devices for hours on end whether at home or in a restaurant or wherever social interactions are required. Let’s teach our children to speak with us and join in conversations or perhaps here’s a novel idea – how about replacing the device with a book that requires the pages to be turned or some pencils and paper that requires some thinking around writing or drawing and which encourages discussion about the child’s efforts.

So, am I out of touch when it comes to the digital age? I don’t think so. I live in the hope that we deliver Digital Technology lessons and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math through specialist qualified teachers. I live in the hope that classroom teachers are able to get on with their key job of delivering lessons that require our children to use language and be creative and critical in their thinking - problem solvers! I live in the hope that as parents we step up and take control as to when our children have access to their digital devices.

We all have the responsibility of helping our children develop the skills such as decision-making, creativity and concentration – all of which are far more important than the ability to swipe an iPad.

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