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Banning smartphones is not the solution

It has been over a decade since Kevin Rudd’s Digital Education Revolution was initiated, with a promise to put a laptop in the hands of every Year 9-12 student across Australia. With these shiny new devices came a pledge to develop projects and support research that sought to integrate ICT into schools nationwide.

If we take our minds back to 2007, the first iPhone would not be held aloft by Steve Jobs until June; Myspace was valued at $12billion (later to be snapped up by Newscorp for $35million in 2012); Facebook had 20 million users (compared to 2.23 billion today); Instagram was still another three years away, with Snapchat to then launch in 2011, and Fortnite would’ve just incurred the teacher’s red pen for incorrect spelling. Technology, true to Moore’s Law, evolves at an exponential rate. Now in 2018, it’s hard to imagine a train station without chins tucked to chests as the morning scroll is part of the commuter choreography, poached eggs go cold country-wide as the perfect angle is curated, and your aunt forgets to rotate any of the 47 photos of her Bali break that she’s just uploaded to another public album.

Yet, the popular discourse around society’s dependence on technology often leaves the commentariat waggling their finger at the youth of today. Over romanticized notions of a pre- technology age come to the fore and throughout school staffrooms a generation of educators lament the fact that they are faced with students who have drastically different learning needs than that of their own experience at school.

The most recent survey relating to child and adolescent health conducted by The Royal Children’s Hospital found that teens spent an average of 43.6 hours per week on their screens at home, yet their parents were not far behind them on 39.4 hours. Evidently, the disparity between adult and child screen time is not as cavernous as anecdotal opinion may suggest.

As the NSW government looks to review school smartphone policies, we must ask ourselves what we want these digital natives to learn. The challenge is neither our brains or the way we teach can develop at the same rate as the technology we are trying to manage. We need to at least try to maintain step with this ever-evolving digital landscape, where greater educational value is placed on how to teach students appropriate use of their device, self-regulation strategies to control dependency and techniques to harness its power as an effective learning tool. If we don’t, we will do them a disservice that has implications far beyond their graduation selfies.

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