No, I’m not talking about Brexit. I’m talking about what happens when toddler use of addictive technology and lack of parenting mix together to produce a somewhat hellish scenario that is now beginning to show itself in primary schools and is yet to affect teaching and learning in secondary schools.
Since going on a reading journey via Hirsch and then to the Far East for some research and information about maths teaching, I’ve been getting into the whole Confucian vibe of late. The main reason is that every time I read about some aspect of maths teaching or classroom practice in the Far East, there always seemed to be this underlying wisdom influencing and providing a holistic reason for that particular practice. The more I read up on Confucianism, the more I understand why X, Y or Z happens in schools. For example, the reason children sit facing the front is not just because it helps children to concentrate on what the teacher is saying or doing, it is also to do with the much bigger picture of harmony within society that arises out of structure and order, respect for wisdom and experience of (usually) older people. I also love the reverence for education and the discipline of individual study as being seen as the means to becoming a better person. So, if we want to emulate maths teaching and learning as they do in Shanghai, we need to think about the what and how of mathematics teaching (because it is vastly superior to what we currently do) and then go way beyond that to the dao, or ‘way’ of the mathematician (or general student) and how he/she is formed, as they do in the Far East. It’s such a shame that we in the West tend to do the exact opposite to our children.
As a mother of teenagers, I am finding out far too late that this sort of education should start at a very early age in order to counter the only things that do happen naturally and that tend to become entrenched well before puberty sets in: bad habits, lack of focus and laziness. Fortunately, I am a self-confessed Tiger Mum and my children have, overall, benefited, but what I am realising is that I haven’t been Tiger-Mum enough to counter all of the insidious effects of child-centred education and Western society’s tendency towards promotion of child-centred/led parenting. However, the situation for disadvantaged children is far worse and, as I have mentioned before on this blog, secondary teachers have yet to experience what primary teachers are now starting to experience: children who are not only not parented very well, but are suffering the effects of being glued to a screen from around the age of 2:
Not only are children’s minds closed to learning, but increasingly they are closed to all interaction with other human beings.
Before going on to relatively new problem of children being unable or unwilling to interact with other human beings, I will briefly describe just a few examples of how children’s minds are closed to learning well before they attend secondary school:
- Lack of discipline in the home means children feel empowered to shun hard work and caring authority of teacher
- Lack of parenting wisdom and sleep routines in particular means that children come to school without having had a proper night’s rest and this tends to manifest as ADHD type symptoms (very different to how adults behave when tired)
- Child-centred education encourages the child to pursue what is interesting or fun at the time, which for many children means that what is necessary and important is put off almost indefinitely
- Typical practice in primary schools inadvertently trains the child to ignore the teachers (who have knowledge to pass on) and instead listen to peers who not only have no knowledge, but may provide what I call ‘anti-knowledge’ and continuously distract a child from being able to think, focus and generally develop good study habits
Now let me tell you about this other factor which we have yet to really feel the full force of. This is the effect of children spending vast amounts of time glued to a screen from an incredibly young age. You may argue that this has been the case for a couple of decades now, but I would argue otherwise. You see, what has facilitated this is the invention of user-friendly tablet computers and the normalisation of their use within the family home. As you can see from these statistics, back in 2010 tablet computer use was pretty niche, and it’s only relatively recently that it has become a normal thing for every family to have at least one tablet computer and for it to be automatically given to a toddler as a pacifier. Unlike parking a screaming toddler in front of CBeebies (which is what we all used to do years ago when the going got tough), parking a toddler on an iPad is a whole level up in terms of entrenching bad habits because they will be playing games that artificially stimulate over and over again the reward pathway of the brain, creating little compulsive addicts in the process.
How does this play out?
Well, if we consider that iPads and tablet use became mainstream from about 2013, this means that the shitstorm is only just starting to happen in primary schools. Children are rocking up not only unable to speak in a sentence (because their basic vocabulary is so poor due to lack of communication), but they are also less used to looking at a human face. It is quite scary to think about 5 year olds who don’t automatically turn to face the adult who is speaking because this means that they are missing out on correct enunciation of vocabulary (mouth movement) and understanding of human emotion as interpreted by facial expressions. Further, no amount of animation in the adult’s voice or body movements will be as exciting as a rewarding and addictive game on the iPad which displays incredibly realistic and brightly coloured fantasy animals dancing about. Not only do we have children whose minds are closed to new knowledge and instruction, but their senses are now shut off too since they don’t even want to look at or listen to an adult, and then you consider the steady increase in glue ear conditions that are so much worse these days due to lack of effective antibiotics. The continued artificial stimulation of the reward pathways of the brain from such an early age due to iPad use would surely affect how children are able or willing to persevere with hard work at school, even if teachers attempted to make all lessons fun and interesting.
All is not lost though and I do believe there is a way to help children. I think the first step is to acknowledge what is happening and the second is to try and emulate what Far Eastern societies do which is to think about how to facilitate the development of the scholar from a young age. This whole situation makes me think, of course, that methods of teaching and learning associated with traditional education actually need to be in place from the start (for example, having children face the front rather than each other), but I’m even starting to think about whether it is a good idea for there to be such huge IWBs being on all day long in primary school classrooms. After all, it is the teacher who has the knowledge to pass on, not the enormous computer screen. If you go in most primary classrooms you will see them organised to encourage the child to look at the IWB (other than each other) rather than the teacher during input time.
Sometimes I even wonder at the increasing moodiness of children these days. Have you noticed it? When we teachers were little children, we didn’t strop and huff and puff as much as little children do in today’s classroom. Perhaps children are like this because they’re actually coping with a mild version of withdrawal and are in ‘need’ of their fix, but do not have the maturity or communication skills to be aware of this. We should in no way accept this, but seek to mitigate against it. Exactly how is another matter entirely……