No matter where you are from, or what your family’s lifestyle is like, there is one topic that unifies parents worldwide: what is the effect of technology on our children and is it enhancing or impeding their development?
The reality is that in the last twenty years technology has become a mainstay of everyday life, and like it or not, it is here to stay. However the effects of technology in schools is still largely unknown and studies into the subject have come up with no definitive answers either way.
Currently in Canada, there are no national guidelines or curriculum for how much technology should be used in a classroom and so the amount of technology time really is up to each individual teacher. Brian Aspinall, a grade 7 and 8 teacher and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert who advocates the use of technology in our classrooms, says it is time for Canada to get up to speed with a national technology curriculum, just like other countries have done in Europe and Australia. Aspinall says doing so will help our children when the time comes for them to enter the workforce. He says there will be more jobs than there are people to fill them in the next 20 years, particularly in tech fields such as software design.
The federal government also recently predicted that jobs in the STEM fields (science, technology engineering and maths) would grow by 12 per cent between 2013 and 2022, with 35 per cent of those jobs expected to be computer science-related. However, on a day-to-day level in the classroom, Aspinall says that as someone who has worked with and without technology as a tool, he truly believes that it helps students discover their own unique strengths, “I think today technologies are very important in classrooms because they allow a personalized learning environment, they allow kids to learn at their own pace, to pause videos, they can code at their own abilities and levels, they can build structures in games that fit their individual learning styles. Technology offers students a choice and an opportunity to be successful in any capacity.”
Cris Rowan, who is the CEO of ‘Zone In’ a company that offers workshops for teachers and educators all over the world on how to use technology wisely in the classroom, agrees that while there is a place for technology in education, in many cases, it is introduced too early and that as a result, kids ability to grasp the fundamentals of learning is suffering, “My thing is that in the early grades we’re not giving the kids the foundational components for literacy that they need. They don’t know how to print, they don’t know how to read, they don’t know how to do their math and tech doesn’t address those issues well.”
Rowan says that in a study (PISA) that tested kids literacy, maths and science skills, 15- year-old students in Canada have been dropping in performance each year since 2003; the time when computers became commonplace in the classroom. Rowan believes that in order for children to have solid writing, reading and math skills that they need to learn them from a teacher before going anywhere near a computer. She says that in the early years (Kindergarten – grade 3) computers should not be used in schools at all. Apsinall disagrees with Rowan and believes that technology is crucial from the get-go and should be used “right from kindergarten. I’m not saying that they should always be on computers, I’m saying that the technology is another tool on the teacher’s belt and it should be completely imbedded in their practice; it should be as much of a choice for students as writing on paper, painting a picture or playing with plasticine, it just needs to be another piece of the puzzle.”
Rowan says that parents and educators need to make sure that they are fully informed of what technology is used for and why, “What’s happening is that [technology] is kind of the flavour of the month, schools are going crazy with it, and it’s not evidence based. The bottom line here there is that there is no evidence to show that it does anything other than entertain children and there’s no–long term research that’s been done, yet we’re making these massive changes in our kids education without knowing the outcome.” Aspinall does not share Rowan’s concerns and thinks that adding technology in the classroom is a no brainer. He says that for him what he really likes is its ability to help students who might not do very well in a traditional school environment, “I had a student who was non-verbal and autistic, he didn’t speak at all, so he did very poorly in the traditional school model, he didn’t write tests, he just didn’t care. Then his parents said you’re the tech-savvy teacher, is there some way we can help him? After a chat about the boys interest, we introduced him to Minecraft and without using his voice he was able to demonstrate figures in a growing pattern sequence.”
Aspinall says technology allows all kids to participate in school and gives them the chance of an education that is tailored to their specific needs and passions instead of a one-size-fits-all model, “I think traditionally, we had students who were unable to be successful through the testing environment and schools gave them this label. But now we’ve got technologies in place that enable all kids to be successful, if a kid struggles with reading: a device can read to them, if a kid struggles with writing they can speak their thoughts to a computer. Technology has provided the equity so we can actually get all kids to voice what they are thinking through methods beyond paper and pencil.”
For Rowan the fact that everyone these days has jumped on the technology wagon is worrisome because, “Whenever a child’s engaged with a device there’s four critical factors for learning that are missing: the device makes the child sedentary, when research shows you’ve really got to be moving to learn, they’re missing a human connection, another factor is nature; it’s actually the green aspect of nature that’s attention restorative and promotes learning better than any other intervention out there and yet we keep kids in at recess and they go on their devices. The other one is touch: because of all these devices, kids are touch deprived, they don’t do rough and tumble play, teachers can’t even touch kids on the shoulders any more, and touch is powerful, it lowers the arousal states that kids are in and so we’ve completely limited this.”
Ultimately, the debate surrounding technology in schools is as complicated as computer code itself. But as Canadian parents, with no rules in place to govern what technology is taught in our children’s classrooms, we need to step up and ask questions, to make sure that technology is enhancing our kids education. Perhaps there is one thing we can all agree on: standing up for our children’s rights is timeless.
Written by: Nicola Enright-Morin