It would seem from reading various accounts and listening to students’ parents that children are spending far too much time on the internet. But what exactly are they doing? I sincerely doubt they get the volume of emails per day that I do and, judging by the responses of my own offspring, they probably don’t reply in a timely fashion anyway. They probably don’t have sufficient funds to be shopping online quite this frequently and it seems unlikely that they are researching the viability of solar panel installation in Western Australia and comparing Canadian vs Israeli vs German photovoltaics as I have been. (The German panels won, incidentally).
It felt as though it was time to investigate. Time for the middle-aged to enter the youthful world of the internet. And because it was research completed entirely during the Christmas holidays, I didn’t feel too guilty about wasting time on it – doubly so because I had been set the challenge of writing about online lives for the school blog, so I could even count it loosely as ‘work’ …
I settled down for an hour one evening on the sofa with the dog. Armed with a soda water and packet of cashews (I really know how to live it up) and having brought my charging cord into the lounge especially for this purpose, I revved up my laptop and Googled ‘Christmas Quiz’. As seems to be the way with the internet, this led me on many a merry pathway away from my original purpose and rather than my usual reading about the latest professional standards for teachers or strategies for improving classroom practice, I found myself re-decorating an electronic version of a living room to discover what tattoo I should get. I also investigated which type of Santa’s reindeer my personality suggested I should be and which Harry Potter character I would be best advised to marry. (Answers: a small, quirky one on my inner wrist, Cupid and Luna Lovegood because we are both apparently thought of by others as ‘odd’. Strange, as I would have picked Dumbledore for myself, given the choice).
I suppose the advantage of this sort of activity is that it was very relaxing. I didn’t think about work once during the proceedings and I laughed out loud on occasion (mainly when Luna Lovegood materialised as a prospective marriage partner). But I did find that it took the entire evening, not just the hour I had set aside for it, and I have to say that I didn’t learn a lot. I also didn’t empty the dishwasher, brush the dog or read anything in my current book and this is presumably the danger. Reading little snippets of rubbish and coming up with vaguely amusing predictions may be a good distraction, but I can see how people could waste a lot of time doing something which is really quite unproductive. If this is the sort of thing that our children are doing online then it does feel as though there is a lot of time being wasted.
But I wouldn’t want you to think that I am against the internet. There are many wonderful things that can be learnt online. Some kids, especially in the senior years, get really into Khan academy and the learning that takes place there – especially if they are ‘stuck’ on a particular concept and determined to conquer it on their own. Others use the net to research their latest obsession, whether that be dinosaurs or cooking or Harry Potter. I think that what is important is that we know what our children are doing on the net and we are confident that they are not spending so much time on it that they are neglecting other, more important parts of their lives – reading, playing and spending time with their families.
So how can we ensure that the internet is used wisely by those who are, by definition, not yet old enough to be wise? I suppose that as parents we already install software that makes sure that really dodgy and nasty material is not available to our children. We limit the time spent on screens and provide a good variety of books as well as modelling good reading practice (frequent and varied and discussed over dinner at the table). And we make sure that we know what it is that they are looking at online. But there is so much more potential for learning online.
Khan Academy’s mission of “providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere” has always appealed to me. And although they used to focus solely on Maths, there is now a huge range of subjects available to those who log in. To whet your appetite and help you encourage your offspring to make the most of their online learning, you might like to have a look at their website
). TED talks
are another regular source of thought-provoking material. There isn’t much mention of Santa’s reindeers or interior design, but these websites are both definitely worth a look. I hope you find them of interest.
Director of Teaching and Learning
Image by Visual Capitalist (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/what-happens-in-an-internet-minute-in-2017)