Going (Technological) Cold Turkey: Time to Switch Off

 In Educational Leadership

Since the turn of the 21st century, mobile phones in schools have been problematic. They have contributed to an increase in technological addiction, academic disengagement, and concerns related to discipline, bullying and lobbying. Tragically, mobile phones have also played a role in teenager suicide.

 According to leading Finnish Professor, Pesi Sahlberg, the ongoing decline in mathematics, science and reading in Australian schools and indeed many other nations, can also be attributed to the mobile phone.

He claims researchers have only just realised this:

  • Innovation and change have been rolling through human history since the time of the hunters and gatherers. Why has the seductive call of technology tempted teachers and researchers away from other necessary life-long skills? Surely losing the fundamentals would be too great an expense to the community.
  • Technology will always evolve, and schools will always be challenged, and seduced, by computer coding, artificial intelligence, new reforms and research opportunities. And neither should we forget that the best way to help our children acquire a love of the English language, and build vocabulary, is through conversation.
  • Face to face, eye to eye interaction is the most powerful method of all. Replace television with conversation, smartphones with books, and encourage pen and paper rather than computers. Talk to your children often and leave the formalities of becoming literate to the professionals.

Australia’s Response

New South Wales has acted ahead of the Professor’s claims, and banned mobile phones (except in emergencies) in all public schools. Some schools have also scrapped ebooks and ipads and reintroduced paper textbooks.

What are the other States and Territories doing?

We would hope they would act on well thought out decisions. It would be unwise to succumb to what I call Next Big Idea Strategy (NBIS).

 What is NBIS?

In short, it is a utopian problem-solution cycle that never ends.

 It works when schools take on the Next Big Idea with little deep thinking about their existing philosophy. There is often action, with no audit, risk assessment, SWOT analysis or other review to determine the impact of the proposed NBI. The outcome, almost inevitably, is the need for another NBI to deal with the problems of the first … and so the cycle continues.

 The Digital Education Revolution (DER) – the ‘one device for every student’ strategy – is a good example. It has been a powerful boost for some researchers, and a boon for manufacturers and suppliers. For families and students, however it has been disastrous and, thankfully, schools are finally listening.

 As we celebrate the reduction of mobile phone access and screen time in our schools, we must also be mindful of the fallout. We could be facing a Technological Cold Turkey(TCT) effect.

We need to manage TCT effectively. It must not result in another poorly considered NBI. Our schools need to make a commitment to reacquaint our children with genuine Australian values, including a love of face-to-face and eye-to-eye interaction, and a fierce loyalty to mateship.

Our commitment must be to take an active role in making sure that happens.

 Copyright © Cheryl Lacey 2019

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