Technology: friend or foe?

Melissa McBride, CEO of Sophia, discusses ways that technology can help keep children safe, as well as where we should approach edtech devices with caution

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, once came up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technology:

1. Anything that’s in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it
3. Anything invented after you are thirty-five is against the natural order of things

Today, young adults at university have never experienced life without the presence of the internet; secondary school students without the presence of Google; primary school children without an i-device; and early years children without touch screens, smart tech and multiple devices. This last generation, unlike those who have come before, is made up of digital natives.

Broadening horizons with tech

Media headlines are often quick to point the finger of blame at technology for a host of wider problems: from ever-increasing violence, drug use, cyber-bullying and self-harm, to obesity amongst students. But the accusations often lack the clinical research needed to substantiate them. It’s all too easy to claim students are self-harming due to cyber-bullying and the misuse of social media, when in truth, there’s likely to be a plethora of reasons behind this.

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There are other serious safety-related topics that tap into health concerns, such as obesity and lack of sleep. Whilst it’s true that our children are spending ever-increasing amounts of time in front of screens, it is again too simple to state that technology is solely to blame. The House of Commons Report stated, “physical inactivity is unlikely to be a direct consequence of adolescents spending too much time on screen-based activities, but rather suggests that already-inactive adolescents have more time to spend in front of screens.” Students are turning to their screens because they are bored and lack actual human connections. What’s more, sport continues to be an undervalued part of the curriculum. With the average number of PE minutes in Key Stage 3 declining by 20% in the last five years, and Key Stage 4 minutes declining by 38%, children are perhaps not encouraged enough to take up activity off screen.

Harnessing edtech for good

What doesn’t hit the headlines so much, however, are the opportunities technology provides students, especially in terms of creating positive connections. In a recent PISA survey of 15-year-olds, 90.5% of boys and 92.3% of girls in the UK agreed with the statement that, “it is very useful to have social media networks on the internet.” The ability to stay in contact with members of their family and friends from school can be crucial for students who feel isolated and are experiencing social difficulties.

Professor Przybylski, an experimental psychologist and director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, has also stated that online games (which have a ‘social’ element) can have “a destigmatising effect, especially for people with different forms of disability who might [otherwise] be left out.”

But technology really shines in its ability to bring knowledge and information to students with just one click. Technology in classrooms, if used correctly, can support creativity, cooperation and prepare students for their future careers.

Technology can be both a friend and an enemy. It’s how children use it – and how we help them understand it – that will eventually define the next generation and what we are as human beings.

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