Isn’t it ironic that, at the start of the school year, Members of Parliament will receive iPads whilst children will continue to fight up with striking teachers, fowl-coop accommodations and conditions little better than they were from the days when I used a slate at Miss Allamani’s in Sacksville St in Corbeaux Town? But then what can you expect from a country that allows men to walk free after their American partners have been jailed in Miami for years for the Piarco corruption scandal or that allows irreplaceable historic buildings to be bulldozed in the name of concrete and a man who threatened our democracy to continue to arrogantly walk the streets surrounded by strange-looking bodyguards and refuse to appear at Commissions of Inquiry? The use of iPads in schools is a fine example of the way media can affect education. Already over 600 school districts in the USA are using them instead of textbooks. They are easy to learn from and lighter to carry. They are fantastic for special-education kids, who can ask their iPads how to spell and define words they don’t understand. They can be used for online courses.
Textbooks remain important but there are instances in which a video can be used to augment them. Imagine teaching Shakespeare by video. After all, Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed and seen, not to be read. Teachers are using Twitter to get students to chime in with questions and answers during lectures. Many schools are experimenting with “blended learning:” using online learning for at least part of the school day to improve productivity and attention. At the cutting edge of new technology, avatars are being used to interact with primary-school students one-on-one and can be customised for each individual, following their eye-tracking on the computer screen and keeping them motivated. One Florida school is using cell phones to augment Spanish instruction: the teacher sends students text messages in Spanish and asks them to respond. Text messaging can also be used to remind students of important homework assignments. Some might question why we ask students to memorise dozens of names and dates in history when in the near future, their wristwatches and cell phones will be ten-gigabyte computers capable of instantaneously spitting out whatever facts are needed.
Instead, the need to teach critical thinking and how to sift through the vast amount of information (some of it good, some of it not so good) in written materials, on television, and on the Internet has become of paramount importance. The new technology in the classroom offers nearly limitless educational possibilities—but potential problems as well (eg, students may be physically present in the classroom but downloading videos online or texting classmates). The thought of using media technology to teach initially bothered me. Some research into the topic bothered me more. A century ago, to be “literate” meant that you could read and write; in 2012, literacy may need to be redefined to include reading, writing, texting, downloading, surfing the Internet, and tweeting, ie, interacting with the media. Young people today spend more time with media than they do in school. This has consequences. For example, for every additional hour of television viewed per day at 29 months of age, there is a six to seven per cent decrease in classroom participation, a ten per cent increase in victimisation by classmates, a nine per cent decrease in physical activity, and a five per cent increase in weight by the fourth standard. Only a decade ago, cyberbullying and sexting were unknown terms. In 2012, US national surveys show that ten to 33 per cent of teenagers have experienced online bullying or harassment and five per cent have engaged in sexting or received sexted messages.
Media research makes it increasingly clear that media use can be associated with bullying and aggressive behaviour, obesity, early onset of sexual intercourse and drug use. Several preliminary studies have linked media use in preschool-aged children with attention-deficit disorders, and many studies have found a link between heavy media use and poor academic performance. In what is one of the potentially most devastating and far-reaching decisions, advertisers have specifically targeted school populations to reach younger and younger audiences through the various media outlets “to start building up their brand consciousness and loyalty as early as possible.” (Consumer Technology for Marketers, 1994, Foxall, G & Goldsmith, RE) It seems to me that now more than ever, children and teenagers need to be taught about the impact of media and how to use it wisely. Fortunately, there is some evidence that media education can mitigate against harmful effects of media violence, cigarette smoking and advertising, alcohol advertising and Internet misuse. We should begin thinking about encouraging schools to establish written policies regarding cell phones, Internet use, texting, sexting, and Internet bullying. We should begin talking about trying to eliminate all commercial influences from schools. The message must be made clear: children and teenagers are not for sale. You think MPs are going to do that using their iPads? I invite everyone to go down to Parliament on a Friday afternoon and see.