Reinventing Primary Education
The next chapter in my series on trendspotting.
This past week (Feb. 27, 2017) a new study by the American Cancer Society showed that rates of colon cancer have been increasing among Millennials, reversing decades of decline. You may ask what this has to do with the title of this piece. Bear with me it does. There is a lot of conjecture about the causes - from obesity to poor eating habits (fast food diets), lack of exercise, etc. More study is warranted of course but one fact is clear (and this is where it ties in to the title) the Millennial and the post-Millennial generations to come are spending a lot less time outdoors and "playing" then they are entertaining themselves with technology in a relatively sedimentary setting. In fact a 2010 Kaiser Foundation study showed that elementary aged children use on average 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technology. This was 2010, one can only guess what it is today, seven years later.
We've all been at a restaurant or other venue and witnessed parents or carers providing their toddler with an iPhone or tablet or some other electronic device in order to keep them occupied and quiet. Children learn at a very early age how to engage one on one with technology. No need to sit quietly and listen to book being read when a disembodied voice from an iPad will provide the narrative with no consequences for fidgeting or inattention. No need for social interaction and the development of social skills either when the entertainment choices are virtually unlimited. In fact, according to an article in The Huffington Post "diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are
increasing at an alarming rate. We are raising a generation of children that have a significantly different learning and maturing experience than previous generations."
Which brings me to our primary educational system. We are whisking kids out of this technological entertainment bubble and placing them into an environment - in some cases preschool, in most cases kindergarten - that hasn't really changed in 100 years. We wonder why children are being diagnosed with all sorts of disorders and difficulties because we expect the same results from a system designed for our great grandparents. They are placed into a scenario where they have to be attentive, quiet, still. Many are ill prepared for this type of interaction. They are used to having immediate satisfaction and unlimited access to entertainment (even if that entertainment is "educational"). You could argue that its the responsibility parents/carers to ensure that their children are receiving a balanced upbringing, but I hesitate to think that this would be an effective solution. It's just too easy for many to throw a device in front of their child and walk away. I'm not an educator or a social scientist so I don't profess to have the answers. Do we continue to teach in the same manner of entertainment via technology that the children are used to? Is there a balance of technology and classical teaching skills that can be applied? I'm sure that these issues are being studied in depth. I'd hate to see us accept the fact that pharmaceuticals and special ed classifications are the only answer. It will be very interesting to see what a classroom environment looks like 10 years down the road.