Wednesday 17 July 2019

Getting to grips with the effect of smartphones on education

Primary school principals to discuss impact of social media and mobile phones on pupils, writes Katherine Donnelly

Stock photo
Stock photo
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

When primary school principals meet for their annual conference this week, one of the main talking points will be the impact of mobile phones and the, inter-related, use of social media on school life, and their pupils' education.

As with any such conference, the principals will largely be talking to each other, and can be expected to fire a few salvoes in the direction of the Department of Education, However, this year there will be a message for parents, and the responsibility they carry when they put a smartphone in a child's hands .

A pre-conference survey conducted by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) shows the extent to which schools are encountering problems as a result of smartphone/social media use, even though they are generally prohibited in school. It found that 61pc do not allow smartphones on the premises and, even if, for one reason or another, they are allowed, 99pc of schools don't permit pupils to use them in school. But such restrictions are not preventing smartphones from having a detrimental effect on pupils' learning.

Children find a way, and some 34pc of principals reported staff encountering problems as result of smartphone/social media use in school and, worse than that, 68pc have experienced problems as a result of smartphone/social media use outside school.

While schools can have all the policies and procedures they like around smartphones and social media (and they have), they are limited in what they can do about a problem that is largely happening outside their gates. With the age at which children are accessing smartphones lowering all the time, the problem is worsening.

IPPN president David Ruddy knows the "huge advantages" for society when technology and smartphones are used in a constructive or creative way, but is also very conscious of how it is a means "to facilitate negative encounters for young people".

What schools often have to deal with is the consequence of online bullying or a child suffering issues around self-esteem because of something else that happened online. Perhaps no one "liked" an image they posted. That can affect their general well-being and, as a consequence, their ability to focus on learning.

According to Ruddy, "more often than not, the onus is put on schools to resolve these issues even though they have occurred outside of school hours on a personal device."

He says parents who choose to purchase a smartphone for their child also need to educate their children on the use of smartphones and social media.

Research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) last week showed how children who own a mobile phone at age nine perform 4pc less well in reading and maths tests at 13.

The report is based on data from 8,500 children in the Growing Up in Ireland study, which found that 40pc owned a mobile phone by the age of nine, the years when crucial literacy and numeracy skills should be developing.

There were higher-than-average levels of phone ownership among pupils in socio-disadvantaged communities, which are already at the wrong end of an educational gap.

The negative impact of mobile phone use among children includes cognitive overload, increased distraction, altering memory and learning patterns and a reduction in sleep duration and quality, according to other research cited by the ESRI. It makes a strong case for "later is better" when it comes to mobile phone ownership if children' s academic development is not to be put at risk.

Irish Independent

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