Through the pandemic, technology has been looming large in the lives of students to their great benefit, but sometimes to a dreadfully regressive extent. How often have we adults scratched our heads trying to remember things we usually lookup on a search engine? And anyone over 35 has had less time for technology to wreak great changes in the way we think. When the same impact is made on the virgin young minds of kids, what outcomes must we fear?
A combination of e-textbooks and apps is making education more engaging and fun in the classroom. But kids raised on technology are easily more distracted than in the past when kids sneaked in storybooks instead of mobile phones. Whether or not you ban smartphones in the classroom, the reality is that kids will find a way to smuggle their devices in. They may end up spending the forty minutes of a class texting or scanning through their Instagram.
A banning culture doesn’t work with the young generation, who see technology as a matter of personal autonomy. Some research in the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has shown that keeping students engaged with lesson plans that are better designed can help with this problem. Some teachers are even turning to social media in the classroom, creating hashtags for Twitter discussions.
Parents are also being encouraged to play a role in helping kids manage digital distractions at home. When possible, keeping to-do lists and planners to paper can help. But true to its innovative spirit, technology itself can help kids manage distractions from technology. The app SelfControl is a case in point, which is at present only available for Mac. But self-motivated kids can use it to block their own access to mail, favourite websites and other distractions for a specified time period. Only when the timer expires will you be able to access those sites. Even restarting or deleting the app in desperation will not help.
There’s also no getting around the fact that technology can be isolating. It is not the solution to face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers in the classroom. For one, not everyone has equal access to tech at home in all countries around the world. UNICEF reported in November 2020 that two-thirds of the world’s school-age kids don’t have access to the Internet at home. How are they expected to learn anything through COVID-type situations if the present scenario continues?
The computer lab at school is a space that can bridge the technological gap among kids. But for that, kids need to be able to turn up at school. Mobile phone companies have made it somewhat easier for rural kids to access the Internet, but most rural kids don’t have smartphones even when there’s internet reach. Or they can’t afford to pay for the Internet. Why should online education only be available for those who can pay for it, is the question being raised. Governments are planning to provide tablets to kids. But there have been suggestions to use broadcasting to reach rural populations, through platforms such as AIR, Doordarshan, and DTH providers. This is likely to reduce the EdTech gap that is currently alienating millions of kids in India and in the rest of the world.