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Don’t Let The Screen Debate Screen Out Technology Comprehension As A School Subject

The hot topic of discussion in schools this year has been screens, particularly smartphones screens. It is, of course, important to talk about whether and when smartphones should be used in schools, but the debate is rather limited.

Is it a Task for the School?

At the end of the day, the discussion does not have much to do with schools. Smartphone distractions are a general problem. The same discussion is happenig at our homes, where some are introducing screen-free time. Or in traffic, where texting while driving is banned. It does not have much to do with children either. We adults also sit with our mobile phones on or under the table during meetings at work.

And it is not exclusively located in the present, either – although smartphones have accelerated the problem. As early as 1918, Emma Gad discussed telephone etiquette and announced, among other things: “Don’t be completely dominated by your telephone but put it out of service during a meal with guests and during an important conversation. It happens all too often that important conversations are interrupted, and their thread is lost, perhaps permanently, in order to receive a completely unimportant enquiry on the telephone.”

Ultimately, it must be up to schools (including teachers – and hopefully in dialogue with the students) how they manage to make sure the smartphone only takes up as much of their time as it needs to. My personal wish – in line with the position of Danish School Students’ Association – would be to create a culture, through dialogue with the students, where smartphones stay in the bag when they are not needed. Chairperson, Laura Poulsen, recently stated: “We don’t believe that bans are the right thing to do. We need to learn to make a choice about mobile technology – and learn to put our smartphones away when it doesn’t make sense to use them. Obviously, it should not interfere with the teaching, but the teaching should also reflect the reality that smartphones are part of our everyday lives.”

Everybody’s Talking ‘Bout It

Another thing that does have a lot to do with schools, however, is education. Children and young people should be taught to understand the digital technologies that they are surrounded by on a daily basis, banned or not.

Anyone who remembers the 1990s will also remember Beverly Hills 90210 on the screen throughout that infamous decade. In one of her sharper moments, specifically in the second episode, episode 21, Everybody’s Talking’’Bout It, Donna stated that:

”If you say kids don’t need condoms because they shouldn’t be having sex, you’re overlooking two important things. One is that a lot of kids are having sex, and the other is that they are kids. It’s like, if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you can tell your children not to go in, you can even put a fence up around it; but if you know they’re going to find a way into that water, don’t you think you ought to teach those kids how to swim?”

The analogy, of course, is that children today HAVE smartphones, and they USE their smartphones, whether we ban them or not. Recently, a student said that some had bought an extra phone as a backup when they had to hand in their smartphones at the start of the lesson at school.

Time for Technology Comprehension

This does not mean that I think we can just let go and let children (and ourselves) look at their screens constantly. It means that the debate should not be so heavily centered on the rather limited question of banning or not.

While we talk and talk and build higher and higher fences, the ocean of digital technologies that children need to learn to navigate is getting bigger. It is the job of the school to prepare children to navigate the digital waters. Help them develop insight into how their smartphones (and other digital devices) and the programmes on them actually work – and how they can interact with them in good ways. Help them understand the possibilities and consequences of digital technologies so they can make informed decisions.

The pace of introducing technological comprehension can only be too slow, and the debate on screen bans must not be allowed to screen this out.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash