The big debate: Should schools avoid screentime for kids?

The big debate: Should schools avoid screentime for kids?

In the digital age, children are using technology on a daily basis. Research shows that children aged between 6 and 14 spend 2.77 hours in front of a screen per day, and more than 46% of them have an average screen time of more than...

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In the digital age, children are using technology on a daily basis. Research shows that children aged between 6 and 14 spend 2.77 hours in front of a screen per day, and more than 46% of them have an average screen time of more than 2 hours per day. Meanwhile, children aged 15-18 spend 7.5 hours per day in front of screens.

In education, technology and screens can bring a number of benefits, including improved academic performance, greater creativity, and stronger collaborative learning. It’s why electronic devices have become so prevalent in schools around the world.

Screen time also equips children with digital literacy skills, essential in the modern world and for the future of work.

Nonetheless, educators and parents (and students) need to maintain a careful balance with screen time. Too much screen time can have detrimental health effects, as well as negatively affect children’s socialisation.

But does that mean that schools should avoid screentime for kids completely? Let’s discuss the pros and cons, and look at how education can be digitally-driven and still protect students’ welfare.

What are the benefits of screentime for kids?

Screentime has been shown to improve children’s knowledge, literacy, and relationship-building in schools. Screen-based programmes and teaching strategies can encourage independent and group learning, and prompt children to ask questions and develop curiosity.

Interestingly, screentime can bring different benefits to children at different ages. For young children, reading apps and ebooks can foster early literacy. Elsewhere, interactive media displayed on screens can help children retain information. And screentime in early childhood makes media and digital tools in learning more attractive.

For older children and teenagers, research reveals that screentime can enrich relationships with teachers and peers. Video games can present opportunities for cognitive, social, and identity development, with some video games even being associated with an increased sense of wellbeing.

Another important advantage of screentime in schools is accessibility. More than 7 million students in the US have a disability, and risk being excluded or restricted from learning journeys. Screentime via electronic devices can substantially boost inclusion for these groups because it provides autonomous education that caters to diverse needs. For example, devices can provide closed captions for students that have hearing impairments, colour contrast for students with visual impairments, multimedia components accommodate students with cognitive difficulties, and alternative navigation options for students with mobility limitations. This formatting means more students have more options to access high-quality education through a screen.

Research confirms that technology plays a big role in facilitating engagement for students with disabilities too. In fact, screen-based devices can enhance classroom rituals and interactions by giving these individuals a literal and figurative voice.

Likewise, technology promotes accessibility by breaking down geographical and physical barriers to learning. Students in any location with an internet connection can tap into education materials from a distance via a smartphone or tablet. These educational apps and platforms increase engagement, motivation, and academic performance, helping to integrate students from remote areas, and students who prefer to self study.

The advantages of screen-free education

Being 100% screen-free in schools is fairly radical and would be difficult to implement in the modern world. However, removing screens from the classroom could create opportunities for a renewed focus on connection, collaboration, and offline learning. Hosting classes outdoors, having interactive discussions, and integrating arts and storytelling to your lessons are great alternatives to screen-centric learning.

However, the most striking benefit of screen-free settings is the impact on children’s health. Too much screen use can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, as well as increase the risk of obesity and stress, and make children more susceptible to depression and anxiety conditions. Inadequate physical activity has also been correlated to electronic device use among children. Unsurprisingly, reduced screentime has been proven to effectively reduce sedentary behaviour and other potential health risks among children.

A Canadian study discovered an association between higher screen use among children and increased vulnerability in school readiness. So, avoiding screentime in your classroom can foster better behaviour among students. What’s more, learning environments that don’t rely on screens can improve student focus and attention, leading to stronger academic results. Similarly, screen-free schools can shape creativity as materials like textbooks, art supplies, and group activities encourage students to think outside of the box.

How to realistically limit screentime for kids

The reality is that many children are spending lots of time on screens outside of schools. So, educators should take this into consideration when determining what a healthy use of screens in schools is. Teachers, parents, and policymakers need to collaborate to curb screen overuse, while still welcoming the many benefits that screentime can bring.

A useful first step is to ask about your students’ screen time at home. With this information, you’ll be able to figure out an optimal use of screens in your classroom. Screen use guidelines for children from the World Health Organisation, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and other trusted health organisations can help.

Your school could also create screentime policies for students at different ages and stages. These policies should include the maximum amount of time permitted in front of a screen per day and per class. It should also specify the times when children are allowed access to screens, and if they are allowed to do so independently or with teacher supervision. It can additionally mention devices or platforms that automatically control the length of time a student can use them for.

Other points to include in a screentime policy could be:

  • Dedicated times where teachers watch screen content with children
  • When to combine touch-screen activities with passive screen-watching
  • Limited screen times (e.g. during meals, breaks or socialisation activities)
  • How the content or programming for screen activities is chosen from
  • How to track and measure correlations between screen-use, deteriorations in students’ vision, attention span, and other health factors

Leading by example is a powerful way to influence your students – so make a point of showcasing your own moderation with technology when in front of students.

Any screentime policy should be consistently reviewed to evaluate its effectiveness. Educators and policymakers should collect feedback from students, teachers, and parents about the benefits and drawbacks of the policy and adjust it accordingly. Ultimately, how screentime is limited should be weighed on the needs and goals of the school and the entire community affected.

So, should schools avoid screentime for kids? The answer is nuanced, but in the digital age, there are undoubtedly reasons to have screens in schools. Nonetheless, there has to be careful consideration about how screens are used, and how they impact students’ development and learning experience. Schools must find a productive equilibrium to ensure that screentime is a solution, not a distraction from students’ education.

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