Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, has hit out at the effects of technology on young people’s learning. The problem as far as she sees it is that they become used to receiving isolated facts in small bite sized chunks with no idea of the more complex issues surrounding them, and lack the skills to integrate the information into an extended chain of reasoning and consequence.
“I do worry that the ease of access to nuggets of information means that our appetites are becoming infantilised,” she says.
“We’re so used to fast facts that we’re in danger of losing sight of the truth that some learning is more of a slow casserole, with knowledge stewing in our minds to form a richer, deeper flavour.
Her comments, in a speech to the trust’s annual conference, come after a large study by the University of Gothenburg which found that youngsters who spend hours using phones or the internet were more likely to develop sleep disorders, stress and mental illness.
Fraser went on:
“I’m a firm believer in the importance for our students of switching off the computer, the radio, the smartphone, the TV, and any other distractions, and reading a whole book… following an author’s train of thought, through perhaps some complex arguments and situations, from first principles through to their conclusion.”
She adds: “It’s only by learning deeply about and around a subject that you can truly hope to master it.”
The Gothenburg study is not the only addressing the rising use of technology by the young and potential negative impacts of this. There have been various US based studies and increasing interest form psychology and neurology departments:
”These devices have an almost obsessive pull towards them,” says Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. ”How can you expect the world to compete with something like an iPad3 with a high-definition screen, clear video and lots of interactivity? How can anything compete with that?”
Girls’ Day School Trust runs a network of fee-paying girls’ schools and two state-funded academies. She said that her schools’ students would achieve strings of top grades but that that wasn’t an acceptable end in and of itself. If the children are not taught independent learning and the ability to think for themselves, then they will not have the skills needed in higher education or the workplace and the school will have failed them.
Her comments also seem to back the growing dissatisfaction with continuous assessment, which has created a ‘teach to the test’ culture where students aren’t expected to remember anything beyond assessment as they rapidly move onto new topics. Fraser’s speech comes as a welcome reminder that a schools duty of education to their students goes beyond merely getting them good exam grades.