As parents of two former Leo High School students, we have concerns about the EACS school board’s recent decision to spend over $3 million to expand the iPad program. This 1:1 Initiative would put an iPad into the hands of every student K-12.

We recognize that knowledge of computer technology is essential in order to function in our society and in the workplace. It’s hard to think of any job that computers haven’t affected in some way. Increasingly, a working knowledge of computers is essential even to get a job. The Internet is also an amazing source of information on just about any topic imaginable.

However, we also know that a computer on each student’s desk can be a great distraction in the classroom and can interfere with the educational process. iPads are great gaming devices. We have heard firsthand that many high school students are playing games during class time, and that teachers are unable or unwilling to control it. Students are even using the school’s Internet to enjoy TV shows and videos during class while wearing headphones hidden in their hoodies. (Ask any honest teenager!) The Internet, even when filtered for illicit and violent content, is an easy source of music, videos, sports and other content that can be a major distraction during school hours. We are happy to hear that parental controls are now available, allowing parents or teachers to block any apps that they feel are inappropriate, or even block the App Store. But we doubt if this feature is widely understood or used.

We are also concerned that when students bring the iPads home or to other places outside of school where wireless internet is available, students often have access to pornography, violence, and whatever else the Internet has to offer. Even if parents are tech-savvy enough to install a filter on the iPad, we suspect that most students could figure out how to bypass it.

We are glad to hear that it is not the school board’s plan to have the elementary students take their iPads home. We hope that teachers will take seriously their responsibility to limit use of the iPads in the classroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have less than 2 hours a day of screen time, including television, computers, smart phones and game devices. They also report that the average child already spends 7 hours a day in these activities. Overuse of screens can lead to attention problems, obesity, school difficulties, sleep problems, and depression.

There have been recent studies which show people learn more effectively from hands-on activities than from computers. It is well known that when we involve more of our senses in the learning process, we retain knowledge better. Even studies comparing reading a hard-copy book to reading the same book on a screen demonstrate that people remember more when they actually handle the book. There seems to be something about physically opening the book and turning pages that changes the way our brains store information (The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens; Scientific American, April 11, 2013).

The EACS school board stated that their plan to have an iPad for each student K-12 is necessary in order for children to be prepared for today’s world of technology. Our observations are that most elementary children learn how to use a computer very quickly, and many of them are ahead of adults already, without having 1:1 iPads at school. (At present, there is an iPad for every four students in the elementary grades.)

So, in view of all of this, maybe the bigger question should not be, “How can we increase use of computers in the classroom?” but instead “How can we best make use of technology so that it doesn’t impede the learning process or the overall wellbeing of our children?” We recognize the need to teach computer skills, but also believe that before expanding the iPad program, we need to carefully evaluate the impact that it has had on the students and their education.

We urge parents to be thoughtful about this and to contact the EACS school board with any concerns and/or observations. We also understand that there will be a public meeting before money can be obtained for financing the additional iPads. We encourage parents to participate in this meeting.

Sincerely,

Roland Stuckey, MD

Cindy Stuckey, MSW

POSTED: 04/25/15 at 8:13 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions