SCREEN TIME AT SCHOOL is quickly becoming a new battlefield. Parents object to their children spending hours at school learning on computers. The tug of war between parents and school districts is in response to a clash between medical experts and the technology industry.
Schools have spent millions of dollars on laptops, apps, computer labs, and tablets in the past 20 years. Some school districts have done away with textbooks. All reading and homework are done online. After schools have invested so much in technology, they have yet to see the dramatic improvement in standardized test scores they expected. Technology companies claim that it is too soon to see results. “It is the very early days,” says Robert L. Hughes of K-12 Education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Hughes admits that “wide variation” exists when it comes to academic achievement using technology.
The effectiveness of technology is not all parents are worried about. Medical research has revealed the negative health effects of screen time on children. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends no screen time for infants from birth to 24 months except for video chatting. For ages 2-5 years old, pediatricians recommend only one hour of screen time. In addition, they recommend keeping screens out of children’s bedrooms and no TV on in the background when children are in other rooms, especially not while the family is eating a meal.
The American Heart Association recommends that parents cut down on the number of hours children use phones, computers, tablets, TV, and video games. American children, ages 8-18 years old, average more than seven hours of screen time a day—way too much. Research has linked excessive screen time to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and high cholesterol. Kids tend to snack during screen time, and the blue light on the screens hinders sleep. Lack of sleep interferes with cognitive development and causes obesity.
The World Health Organization’s 2019 guidelines recommend limited or no screen time for children under the age of 5. The National Institute of Health’s research recommends the following for better cognition: Children need 9-11 hours of sleep, at least one hour of physical exercise, and less than two hours of screen time.
Parental backlash has begun. The demands vary from proof that technology as an educational tool works to requests for screen-free classrooms. Parents are further frustrated trying to control the amount of screen time. When kids come home, they want to watch TV and play video games after being online for hours at school.
Texas has been spared the elimination of textbooks, pencils, and paper for the most part. When Gov. Greg Abbott first ran for office, he promised to add electronic textbooks to all school districts in the state. After he was elected, Abbott discovered that only half of Texas students have internet access. So for now, most school districts still use traditional textbooks. As for excessive screen time, I checked with my local elementary school. It has a new computer program that provides practice exercises for grades 1-5. The second-grade teacher told me that it is too soon to know if the online drills make a difference in learning. She says her students spend 15 minutes a day online. She still takes them to the library to check out books, and they still write with pencils and paper.
Schools have been experimenting with teaching tools, curriculum, and technology for decades. Excessive screen time is now a health issue that schools have to address. Most school districts will heed the warnings from the medical community and adjust student exposure to screens accordingly. Schools will also figure out how best to use technology as a learning tool.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mary Jane McKinney is the founder and CEO of Grammardog.com LLC, a publisher of grammar exercises. She has used her English degree as a teacher, editor, reporter, and marketing executive. Readers who have questions or comments on this column are welcome to write to the author in care of The Canadian Record, PO Box 898, Canadian, TX 79014, or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.