Family & Education

Don't worry about children spending time on iPads

Today's children turn to electronic devices at home to find out the stuff they frustratingly didn’t get at school.


I see it daily. They run into the house and seek screens. If we remove the TV, they find a phone. If we remove the phone, it’s a tablet. After trying to remove/stop/distract, our resolve breaks and we have lost.

That’s the battle every day in homes around the world. Concerned parents are bombarded with messages like “Screens are causing brain damage/stress/depression” — all of which contain truth. But while the media emphasises the negative side of screen time, it made me think: is there another way of looking at this? What are they doing that makes them seek out screen time with such passion and determination?

I conducted an experiment which I recommend to every parent. I made sure I could observe clearly what my kids were doing on their phones and tablets and even join in their activities.

Perhaps surprisingly, rather than merely surfing the web, or chatting with friends on social network, my kids were doing constructive things.

My son used his time to build a state-of-the-art mansion in Minecraft, completed two modules of a coding game and managed to get a “liberty” (apparently rare) for his team in Clash Royale (latest game).

Had I not seen what he was doing, I would have thought that he was timewasting. But having calmly observed what he was doing, I realise he had spent the last hour honing his design, maths and IT skills, while also learning the value of teamwork and boosting his confidence by gaining a rare team status only few achieve.

Around the same time, my teenage daughter was using Duo Lingo to learn Italian (que bella!), admiring and reviewing around 50 photos of cakes on Instagram, sharing homework strategies on her class What’s App group and making a short video for a friend’s birthday.

And then it hit me: this is education. Our kids run from school to their screens because, in so many ways, screen time provides kids with unique, personalised learning experiences that many schools simply do not provide.

Monitored and measured screen time gives kids the opportunity for engagement with authentic audiences, interactive learning and a sense of personal accomplishment which, sadly, is not the case in many schools.

Putting aside the what of education — the curricula to be covered — our education system is decades behind in terms of the how. My 16-year-old daughter, who will graduate from university in 2021, is studying from old textbooks and her GCSEs are handwritten.

Sure, books are incredibly important, but even the greatest libraries in the world are now digitising their collections in the realisation that the greatest access-point for learning is the web. And sure, we all need to know how to write, but must this entail writing 3,000-word essays by hand?

Of course, part of the reason for this rigid system is the fact that successful learning in most subjects is measured by standardised tests. Consequently, most teachers teach so that their students should do as well as possible. But the more we understand education, the more we realise the way we test students does little justice to the way they should be learning.

I believe our kids are thirsty for knowledge, communicated through engaging activities and interactive learning in a way that provides them with a real sense of personal accomplishment. But the current system leaves little room for this type of dynamic learning.

They turn to their devices more and more at home to find out the stuff they frustratingly didn’t get at school. They are used to an instantaneous experience, tailored to them, not rote learning alongside 30 other kids, each with their own individual needs. They feel pressured to succeed in a system that is alien to them.

Let’s suppose that school was a place where our children received the education they crave. Where in history, geography, maths or any other subject, our kids could create and search for their own content, be responsible for their own learning, perhaps teach others through videos and websites they have made while researching. Design solutions to real problems. Collaborate with other communities, go outside more, be encouraged to use art skills and music, pursue interests and activities. Where our girls, as well as our boys can be encouraged to study engineering, coding, robotics, 3D-modelling and more.

Perhaps then they wouldn’t run from school. Perhaps they’d even want to continue working at home.

While we may not need to change what is being learnt in school, we need to be a little more honest with ourselves about the how of education because, right now, a majority of our kids are living in the past, enduring a Victorian curriculum and graduating without the skills they need to thrive.

Schools should be places where our kid’s thirst for learning is quenched. But rather than learning at school, far too many of our kids are running home to start their education. The time for change has passed — what are we doing about it?


Chana Kanzen is chief executive of Jewish Interactive

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