‘Pupils are increasingly unwilling to learn anything off by heart’

The Secret Teacher: It is difficult to keep students interested if it involves waiting

Schools require children to be actively engaged, and they remain, thankfully, driven by human interaction.  Photograph: iStock

Schools require children to be actively engaged, and they remain, thankfully, driven by human interaction. Photograph: iStock

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Am I the only one more startled at the sight of a toddler playing on a smartphone entirely unaided than of a woman breastfeeding in public?

I’ve only seen photos of one of these go viral because it caused offence.

While I obviously mind my own business when I see babies in front of a tablet or phone, I long to engage the parents in conversation about some of the children I teach who are exhibiting all the signs of having had a similarly early introduction to technology.

Smartphones and similar devices have made a spectacular leap into our consciousness – so much so that we barely bat an eyelid at the very youngest of users.

Clearly, all too few people are aware that such early use comes at an enormous cost to our children’s development.

Does your child hold a pencil as confidently as a tablet? My students are mystified as to why I get them to write full sentences when only a couple of words are needed to complete the answer, as in the very bare essentials of the answer.

Real world methods

Students are adept at applying methods from online or applications to more old-fashioned tasks, but this often means that they don’t actually follow the instructions.

Real life still requires us to fill in forms or bank drafts, write cheques and write our signatures.

Sometimes we need to write more, and therefore for longer, but I find this is often met with resistance.

Starting them so young means that their view of the world and how it works is obscured, and they are unfairly conditioned to expect what reality cannot deliver.

Being experienced digital citizens has dramatically changed students’ perception of how readily available answers are, and how instantly

The real world is three dimensional, the screen is not. The appropriate toys and building blocks will serve your child better in the real world and will help with spatial awareness and motor skills.

If you stick to them, it will be difficult to harm your child, as toys are age specific and generally come with clear indications of the suitable age range, or lower age limit. When necessary we even see the warnings “not suitable for children under three years of age”.

Check the box on that tablet or smartphone for the appropriate children’s age range and proceed accordingly.

Changed student perception

Classrooms require children to be actively engaged, and they remain, thankfully, driven by human interaction.

The challenge lies in children’s changing expectations, and a need for what happens in school to measure up to the service available online.

Questions simply don’t get answered instantly in a learning environment, nor in response to a quick click (of one’s fingers!). Being experienced digital citizens has dramatically changed students’ perception of how readily available answers are, and how instantly.

This has led to an ever-increasing unwillingness to learn anything off by heart or to remain interested in the answer to any question that involves waiting or laborious searching.

If it’s readily available elsewhere at the touch of a button, why would you bother?

I knew who was boss when it came to setting limits – does it really have to be so different for the social media generation?

The multitude of reasons why they should bother can be summed up by the old adage: “use it or lose it”.

I’m fascinated by eye health and am constantly testing my pupils’ eyesight. Not an eye chart in sight though; I use the watch-them-when-they-are-copying-from-the-board method.

You’d be amazed at how I can vary my font size and when projecting from the computer screen I can even zoom. Pupils often lend a hand with my diagnoses by asking if they can move closer to the front. Entirely unsophisticated but very revealing.

The relevance? Lots of people are familiar with the blue screen of death that signals a panic in relation to PC health, but are you familiar with the blue light of blindness?

Four hours per day

I’m being a little overdramatic here, but only a little. The continuous exposure to blue light from screens is well known to be harmful to the retina, but research has recently revealed a progression from blue light to retinal damage to macular degeneration and therefore possible permanent loss of vision.

In time we may need to re-evaluate our perception of macular degeneration as something which only affects the older generation, and we may have to take responsibility for exposing our children to an excess of that blue light, and at an unnecessarily early age.

I have not even started on what children are in fact doing online, but research consistently reveals that children are spending an average of four hours online per day.

The teacher in me is acutely aware that there isn’t a filter blocking users from posting sub-standard language, so the content young people are reading could be proving detrimental to their language development and literacy levels.

If they are clocking up four hours online, presumably for the most part after school hours, there isn’t much time left for more educational reading material. When I was young I wasn’t allowed to watch television indefinitely (that was the only screen), and I knew who was boss when it came to setting limits – does it really have to be so different for the social media generation?

As adults we know the addictive quality of the device, as it is something many of us struggle with ourselves.

We really need to start batting an eyelid, and following it up with real action, because as things stand we are surely little more than bystanders watching slow motion footage of a near-certain car crash.

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