As we move into week two of our lockdown, more stories and concerns are meeting us daily. Only last week we were warned of longer school closures and potentially cancelled examinations. All of which are a big deal for all pupils, but they're likely to be especially distressing for students preparing for IGCSEs and A levels under the British system and Selectividad for Spanish students. They will already have begun revision, and many will be anxious about putting their lives on hold.
At MTA we worked very hard at the beginning of last week to setup our tutoring via an online option. This is now fully available to support all students, including those studying for examinations.
I wrote last week regarding various sites which can be useful for all students, whatever age. However it is all about balance.It has b een regularly documented that young people between 16 and 24 spend more than 27 hours per week on the internet, if, like me you are a parent you are well aware of the addiction to the telephone!!
Screen time spent in front of smartphones, computers, tablets and television is an inescapable part of family life. So how do we control it now we are driving our children to do all their school work via electronic modes and we are all captured in our homes?
Well, let me be pragmatic and suggest that there is good and bad in everything and it is up to us as adults to help our children use technology to its best advantage at this time. Having worked with young students for the last 8 years, I have learnt that the internet can be as harmful as we want it to be but in general the amount of effective information and tutoring which is available through this medium outweighs the negative.
Using the internet properly and effectively at this time will be of significant importance to all students, but it also adds a huge distraction to actually getting the work done.
Obviously it is important to ‘police' the usage but the perception that the internet is full of rubbish and children will learn incorrectly from it is generally misguided. I have seen little evidence of this, generally when children work individually or in groups to research a topic they invariably find the right answers. I applaud the different learning style, communication, resources, eLearning and accessibility technology gives us.
Yet, alongside the positives there comes a darker underbelly which has been well documented of cheating, plagiarism, bullying and fraud which many scholars believe is deeply damaging to the world of education.
Copy and paste is a new phenomenon with a startling number of students admitting that they use the internet to plagiarise work and only 29% view copying from the web as ‘serious cheating'. It stands to reason that if you are just copying and pasting you are not learning, so apart from getting the task done there is little benefit.
The internet had brought us a new digitalised surge for ebooks in both education and pleasure. Sales of real books are plummeting but more importantly the impact is that children's reading levels are decreasing rapidly and the greatest cornerstone of reading success, the library, is under serious threat.
The team at MTA feel passionately about the issue and that is why we created our own ‘old fashioned' library service for our clients and friends. For me whilst I love my kindle the feel of a real book is unsurpassed, that is why I champion reading at home with your young ones and discussing a topical book with your teenagers. Go on parents don't let books die. Add a ‘book club' activity to your imposed captivity.
Many critics warn that the benefits of using the internet for educational purposes is outweighed by the distractions of social media. Mind you, it's not only young students who are affected by the time wasting addiction to facebook, social media etc etc even today I spent, sadly, far too much time ‘just checking' facebook before I actually started what is my real job and took steps in running the business. What good did it do me? None! Adding only to my frustrations of running out of time. Internet procrastination is our enemy so turn off facebook for the next hour and remove your phone to get the task done!! So what, as parents can we do?
Overall it is impossible to under-estimate the huge potential and enhancement that education has been enriched by the internet but as it celebrates its 20th anniversary it is important to recognise that as a society time has to be spent on tackling the problems and threats. For parents and careers alike at this time I think a little change each day can help keep a healthy balance in our lives.
The lure of social media and video games maybe hard for teenagers to resist, so setting limits maybe helpful.
All students should be reading a real book for an hour a day, for example. Use the opportunity to sit down with your child and discuss what they have read. It cements a relationship and you can see how the interpretation skills are developing.
Perhaps consider going digital together; spend time together as a family working on a project, game or take an interest with your teenagers' online world. Keep digital free zones at home. Even the most responsible use of media can't be a substitute for traditional playtime and interaction between people. Establish baseline limits on media usage and make electronics off limits at certain times; mealtimes, reading time and playtime. My family played Monopoly last week as team event. It was great fun!
Walk the talk - Physical activity and face to face (even SKYPE video calls with friends and family) social interaction remain crucial to good health and children's development. It is up to us adults to give them the skills to entertain themselves without electronics. No app can replace blocks and books! In general our advice would be that students should not be in one-on-one lessons for more than four hours a day, since these require higher concentration levels than in a classroom of 30 pupils.
For the final word ask yourself - Are you a good role model or have you been sucked into staring at your phone, facebook or whatsapp instead of giving someone or an activity the gift of your full attention?