Slaves to technology

Posted on Sep 21, 2015
Slaves to technology

Year 6 pupil: “I’m a slave to my technology!”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Year 6 pupil: “I have to spend time on my tablet. I miss my tablet so much!”

I had this conversation, whilst visiting our intrepid year 6 children at Blackland’s farm this Friday. We then started talking about getting home.

Pupil: “I cannot wait to get home – I really want to play ….. on my X-box.”

Me: “I bet you cannot wait to see your parents?”

Pupil: “Yes, but I miss my X-box more!”

I am sure this is not the case, but it made me think about a couple of things that came to my attention this week.

Firstly, This article from earlier in the year (Jan) concerns itself with the decision taken in the new Oxford Junior Dictionary to replace many ‘natural’ words such as kingfisher and blackberry, with technological new ones such as ‘cut and paste’ and ‘Blackberry’. This of course reflects a wider shift in experience for our children with most of them using technology on a daily basis. I grew up in the countryside and my Commodore 64 was never really in danger of replacing my enjoyment of playing outside, building dens and so on. A love of nature and the natural world seemed to me a given. Many people, including eminent children’s authors such as Michael Morpurgo, have spoken out against this decision. In some ways I suppose it doesn’t really matter – children’s experience is hardly shaped by the contents of a dictionary. It is however somehow sad.

Secondly, a report came out this week which looked at the effect of technology used in education. The overall summary was that technology made little or no difference in improving outcomes for children. A summary of the report can be read here. It states that not only does technology not particularly help pupils, but often simply distracts them. High performing education systems in technologically advanced Asian countries made significantly less use of computers in the classroom than in England. This has huge implications for schools – who spend thousands every year on technology.

And finally – back to the year 6 pupils. Despite the rain, the wind, the mud and some chilly temperatures, they had so much fun in the woods – climbing and playing and being children. It was so good to see – not a computer, phone or tablet in sight…

Don’t get me wrong – I do think there is a place for technology in education and for children too. As a previous IT subject leader and technology champion, I have seen how IT can improve educational outcomes and motivate pupils in ways that cannot be achieved by other means. It requires a very high level of skill from the teacher however and a willingness to spend a great deal of time to understand the technology – time which is often not available. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report is not saying that we should scrap our plans to invest in technology. It does state that we need to strive to ensure that technological developments improve academic outcomes, and this conclusion is hard to argue against. I also know how much fun computer games can be, and how great it is to use technology to keep children in touch with relatives the other side of the country for example. There are many, many positive uses of technology.

We all (schools, parents and carers) however do need to do more in ensuring children understand their place in a natural world – have an understanding of the world around them. Simple things such as understanding where their food comes from is vital. This understanding will help our children to grow into healthy young people, who understand for example the environmental implications of practices such as transporting food from around the globe. It can be as simple as taking the year 3 children to visit the Patcham Allotments to see potatoes and turnips growing… I for one would prefer to see children enjoying blackberries in the autumn, rather than playing on their Blackberries indoors.