Avoid Damaging the Schools
Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
Being digital in a universally connected world is a core educational capability all the young will require.
At first glance, it is logical to expect schools to lead the way in growing that capability.
When a nation like France decides to ban the use of smartphones in all its schools many will ask how is it going to ready its young for being digital? The same holds of schools that chose to ban the children’s kit.
Isn’t it better to educate them on the use of the digital astutely, than to ban the technology and abrogate responsibility? Shouldn’t the nation’s schools, funded to educate the young, be nurturing that core capability?
As a general principle, the answer is yes.
That said one must simultaneously also ask a question rarely posed – who is best placed to grow the young’s being digital?
History (Lee and Broadie, 2018) affirms that while ‘being digital’ is in part an inherent capability, that will largely naturally grow from birth onwards it does require the astute guidance of elders to support and shape its appropriate growth.
Seemingly highly logical.
The answer as to who is best placed is however not black and white.
Twenty plus years of history and digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests the best way forward is rather more nuanced.
Governments, schools, many academics and even the media seemingly have no doubt it should be the schools, with the teachers implementing the policies of government.
History and near two billion digitally connected young say it should – and will be – the digitally connected families of the world.
And that parents globally have – largely unseen – already adopted the new global normal, where the families play the lead role, from the day the child is born. The trend is very strongly for the digitally connected families to play an increasingly central role in nurturing the children’s learning with the digital, and for the schools at best to play a complementary role, and critically only when they are prepared to create a learning culture akin to, and build upon the leadership of the families.
This development is a natural flow on from the Digital Revolution, and the continuing exponential digital evolution.
The current reality is that it will make little or no difference to the world’s young being digital if most schools and governments ban the use of the children’s personal digital technologies in the classrooms. It hasn’t made any difference since the mid 1990’s when society began going digital, and the schools retreated behind their cyber walls and successfully repelled the Digital, and Mobile Revolutions (Lee and Broadie, 2018).
Ironically the bans will likely negatively impact the schools more than the young.
The natural growth of the young’s being digital will, on current trends, continue unabated.
Most schools have long been dealt out of the main play in the young’s learning with the digital.
Near on 70% (ITU, 2017) of the world’s young are digitally connected and have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital, from the age of three upwards.
Governments and most schools globally have played no significant part in that connectivity.
It has been – and continues to be – the digitally connected families of the world that have funded the technology and connectivity, and been willing to empower and trust their children to take charge of their learning with the digital, largely unfettered.
The governments and schools have provided the families of the young little or no funding or support, all the while spending billions of taxpayer’s monies ineffectually on school technology.
Indeed, from the mid 1990’s most schools have operated behind their walls, isolating themselves from an increasingly connected world, refusing to recognise the out of school learning with the digital, preventing the classroom use of the children’s mobile digital technologies, and leaving the families to fend for themselves.
Significantly the schools have not – and still don’t – attach great importance on the digital underpinning all learning. They see no need to grow the children’s being digital as a core capability, or to move away from their use of the traditional highly controlled and structured, linear teaching, within what are still Industrial Age organisations.
Critically most schools have not given their students agency over their learning with the digital. The students are disempowered, distrusted, have no voice in what is taught, are obliged to learn what the experts believe right, are compelled to use the school technology and to follow the dictates of the teacher.
In marked contrast the digitally connected families of the world, from the 1990’s onwards believed being digital in an increasingly connected and networked world was vital for their children’s education and life chances (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Revealingly a 2018 US Gallup survey on digital devices concluded while 87.5% of parents believed they were important to their children’s education only 36% of teachers held that belief (Busteed and Dugan (2018). Tellingly the same poll revealed that while only 13% of parents believed the devices could be harmful to the children’s education 69% of teachers believed they would (Busteed and Dugan, 2018).
While US figures little is the wonder that scant if any notice is taken of educators’ invariably negative advice on the acquisition and use of the most sought after devices in human history; devices that daily are becoming more central to life, learning and work in a digitally connected world.
Significantly the families not only provided their children the technology but supported their use of a strongly laissez faire, non-linear, naturally evolving approach to learning, where the children largely took charge of their use and learning with the digital.
As the technology evolved and became simpler to use so the age of those using the digital outside the school walls plummeted.
For at least the last five years, most children born into digitally connected families will by three have largely naturally grown the key elements of being digital, capabilities they will use, and grow lifelong – regardless of what schools or governments desire.
The die is largely cast before governments and their schools come into the children’s education.
The young will only use the structured learning approach of schools when compelled.
The several billion digitally connected young – and those millions being connected weekly – are not about to give up the agency over their learning, and abandon their highly successful, enjoyable and strongly individualised approach that naturally keeps them at the cutting edge. They are not about to revert to a dated, ineffectual approach, where their learning with the digital outside the classroom isn’t recognised, and they are distrusted and disempowered.
Governments and schools could learn much about who is best placed to grow the young’s being digital by comparing the development with the young’s learning to speak.
Both are inherent capabilities, naturally grown by the parents in the family setting, ‘operational’ with most children well before starting school.
Tellingly learning to speak – although one of the most basic of educational capabilities – isn’t formally taught by the schools, except with children struggling. A core skill that underpins all learning is naturally collaboratively built upon by the school and family.
The growing of the nation’s young ‘being digital’ from birth onwards, and having it underpin all learning 24/7/365 could and likely should be approached the same way.
It would necessitate the schools – and government – recognising the families’ lead. It would oblige them to appreciate that for decades the best teaching practice with the digital has been be found outside the school. It would entail schools growing a learning culture like the families, and being willing to empower and trust the young. The schools – like with speaking – would be complementing the efforts of and adding value to the efforts of the digitally connected families.
That is what is happening with those exceptional schools globally that have long ceased doing the digitaland are being digital.
Schools, governments can continue to operate alone, controlling every facet of learning with the digital within the school, dismissing the efforts of the digitally connected families, banning the student’s use of the personal technologies and declining to build upon the children’s digital base but all that will do is lessen the standing and relevance of the schools.
Children and families that have only ever known a digitally connected world will regard those schools increasingly as out of touch with reality, dated and irrelevant, with the students becoming increasingly disengaged and likely alienated.
Hand written exams are not their world.
The young – with the support of their family, peers, networks – will continue to take charge of their learning with the digital, to grow their learning how to learn and to apply that talent in an increasingly connected world to learn what they desire, by-passing the schools when they want.
Schools that try and compete with the families will lose. What little influence they have with the digital will continue to decline as those schools lag increasingly behind the families’ thinking and usage.
Significantly the schools that try and compete, and which ban the technology will deny the nation’s digitally empowered young the opportunity to work with many talented professionals, who if empowered and allowed to fly can take the children’s thinking and learning to an appreciably higher order. The untapped potential of the digital remains immense. All the nation’s young – and not just the ‘self-starters’ – need to be challenged and extended. It is not enough for the young to be digitally proficient – all should be continually challenged and supported by astute teachers and innovative teaching to operate at a high plane lifelong – whatever the young’s interests and passions.
While the history, research and logic strongly suggests governments and their schools should move immediately to genuinely collaborate with the digitally connected families the same history, and governments near universal desire to control every facet of schooling, suggests very strongly it isn’t about to happen.
There will be exceptional schools, and likely more exceptional schools that will be willing to distribute their control of the teaching and learning, and genuinely collaborate with their families, but most will not (Lee and Broadie, 2018).
Most schools, usually with the support of government, will continue with their insular Industrial Age ways, placing limited importance on being digital or empowering the young to take charge of their learning, and banning or inordinately controlling the young’s school use of the technologies they use 24/7/365.
- Busteed, B and Dugan, A (2018) ‘US Teachers See Digital Devices as Net Plus for Education’. Gallup April 8 2018 – http://news.gallup.com/poll/232154/teachers-digital-devices-net-plus-education.aspx?g_source=link_NEWSV9&g_medium=LEAD&g_campaign=item_&g_content=U.S.%2520Teachers%2520See%2520Digital%2520Devices%2520as%2520Net%2520Plus%2520for%2520Education
- ITU (2017) Measuring the Information Society Report 2017 Volume 1Geneva International Telecommunications Union – https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/publications/mis2017.aspx
- Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–