This time last year we were reeling with the impact of a hugely strict lockdown and the prospect of home schooling for weeks.
We know now that this was to be a big deal for pupils, they were unable to return to normal education until after the summer! With exams cancelled and the experience of sitting an examination simply passed by.
At MTA we worked very hard during this time to support students as best we could with distance and online activities.
Thank goodness that we have been able to work through this academic year in relative ‘normality’.
The one thing that we learnt last year was that although it was a shock, we were able to adjust to a different way of learning.
Not always easy, not always as effective as face to face but never the less it opened other opportunities to use the internet for learning.
There has been much debate about whether or not internet learning is a good thing, however as with all things it is all about balance.
It has been regularly documented that young people between 16 and 24 spend more than 27 hours per week on the internet.
I run our online AS and A level department and from experience I know that the telephone is a dangerous distraction at times, especially when independent study time is scheduled.
Using the internet properly and effectively is of significant importance to all students, but it also adds a huge distraction to actually getting the work done.
Screen time spent in front of smartphones, computers, tablets and television is an inescapable part of family life. So how do we control it so that we get the best out of internet use.
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.
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.
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 corner stone 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 the up and coming Easter break activities.
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 underestimate 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 carers 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 may be hard for teenagers to resist, so setting limits may be 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’ on line 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; meal times, reading time and play time. Bring out the Monopoly or Scrabble, both fantastic interactive ways of learning.
Walk the talk - Physical activity and face to face 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, books or you!
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?