Schools grapple with technology

Where does the responsibility of the school and that of the family start and finish? The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is stretched to the limit and schools and families find it difficult accessing helpful support and advisory services.

How far do we go in allowing student access to smartphones and laptops in the playground – during recess and lunch breaks? What about in the classroom – recording science experiments, creating art works, photography and video recording on excursions with hand-held devices? How do we protect the interests of those who, for good reason, don’t want to have their photograph taken?

And, how do we encourage play and physical activity, when there is such powerful adult role modelling and media hype given to digital literacy and IT competence and use? Schools are routinely confronting these challenges and responding as best they can.

Preschools and schools are encouraged to spend their scarce funds on creating and maintaining arresting websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter connections. Parent access occasionally can be problematic. To what extent should limitations be applied to parent access to parent group emails? I have visited preschools and primary schools in countries to our immediate north, where parents can gain web camera access from their mobile phone to the classroom through cameras installed for the specific purpose of allowing parent observation and monitoring of classroom activity.

There are Australian schools that have this controversial technology installed, justified to the teaching staff as a way for the school administration to watch children and activities inside the classroom and to help in protecting teachers from unjustified complaint from parents.

A growing concern in the early years of schooling with the demise of handwriting, also will emerge, as technology throughout schooling gradually supplants handwritten student submissions. In some schools this has already happened, accompanying the school and university trend of replacing libraries – and books, by the faster and cheaper, possibly more effective, internet-based research.

These are fundamental and challenging issues for families and for preschools and schools. They get to the essence of what happens in schools. Teachers are in the front line of all these developments. Policymakers should be aware of the seriousness of these changes, consult with teachers and support and encourage all our preschools and schools.

Dr William McKeith is a former school principal and managing director of Schools Active Worldwide.

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