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Jun 26, 2024

The Madness of EdTech

The Madness of EdTech

All or Nothing Options

All or Nothing Options

Last week, my daughter, grade 6, had to turn in an illustrated graph for Science. She was proud of the beautiful colored pencil work she did and I loved the fact that she actually had a paper-based assignment. As is typical of my creatively-brained child, however, she realized the morning it was due that she was also supposed to write an “artist’s statement.”  

With just ten minutes left before she needed to leave for school, she ran to get her school-issued laptop to finish the written portion. Shoveling bites of cereal in her mouth while she tried to start up the low-quality computer, her stress level increased with every minute the machine whirred and hummed. 

I am not exaggerating when I say it took five minutes to boot up. 

By this point, her anxiety was palpable: “It’s not starting up! I’m not going to be able to get this done! This is so frustrating!” 

I offered paper and pencil– “You can write it down and hand it in this way!” 

No.

I offered to have her dictate the statement to me to type on my computer– “I can email it to the teacher!” 

No.

“We’re supposed to do it on the computer!” she moaned. 

Finally, the computer started, and she logged in to her Schoology account, found the Science class “page” (Schoology is kind of like Facebook for schools, oddly), and started typing. 

At least she was typing with more than her two index fingers, I thought wryly.

But the futility of the experience was clear: proud of her illustrated graph and ready to turn it in during class, she was completely flummoxed by the completely unnecessary challenge of not being able to get her school computer to turn on, load up, and give her access to the digital platform on which she could type a few sentences and consider her homework officially “done.”

What madness is this, you might ask, that a child, actually excited about a school assignment, loses all steam and inspiration because she is stymied by the expectation– indeed, demand– that she use a crappy old laptop to “finish” the work but is thwarted by the low-quality, tech-at-all-costs requirements to actually do so?

The madness that is modern-day education and the absurdity of an all-or-nothing choice.  

Halfway into 2024, most parents have some awareness that “technology use in school” is pretty different from our own childhoods, but even more different that it was pre-COVID. Before the pandemic, 60% of school administrators in the U.S. provided 1:1 digital devices for every middle and high school student. For elementary schools, it was about 40%. 

In 2021, a year into the pandemic, the rates for middle and high school 1:1 programs rose to 90% and for elementary schools, it was 84%.

And here we are, three years later, and these numbers have gone up, not down. In fact, when a parent recently emailed me to ask, “Do you know of any middle or high school in America where there is no 1:1 or tech-based curriculum?” with the exception of perhaps Waldorf schools (and even then, there is some use of tech), I have found very few options. (If you are at such a school or know of one, please let us know!).

This is kind of insane, when you think about it. Even just a decade ago, elementary schools were still pretty minimally tech-based, offering classroom computers or computer labs to teach skills like typing and research (great skills to learn, by the way). But somehow, in part thanks to remote learning, it’s very difficult to find schools still operating under the “less is more” approach to technology in schools, especially for younger students.

The rapid adoption of EdTech (which includes 1:1 device programs like one laptop or iPad for each student, but also the adoption of digital curricula and learning management systems) has meant that schools have quickly shifted to primarily tech-based teaching and learning. And it’s a highly lucrative industry (for tech companies, at least). Estimates suggest that K-12 schools in the U.S. spent between $26 and $41 billion annually on EdTech in 2019. Projections for post-pandemic EdTech spending estimated schools could spend in excess of $50 billion.  

Just a decade ago, parents were worried about “after-school screentime.” Today, when we talk about daily consumption, we have to include the hours spent on screens at school too. One study found that half of teachers report that their students spend 1 to 4 hours per day using EdTech products during the school day. Four out of ten high school teachers and one-third of middle school teachers report their students spend more than five hours a day on EdTech platforms or tools. Five hours!? In a school day that lasts less than 7!?

Madness.

Throw in the emergency that was remote learning (and as I’ve said before, remote learning was the lifeboat we needed to keep kids connected to their teachers at the end of the 2020 school year– but a lifeboat is not a long-term solution) and we are now looking at kindergarteners on iPads, elementary school students earning “tablet time” for Free Choice and doing math work on a gamified app, and middle school students uploading a written artist statement to a digital platform after waiting five minutes for a computer to load. It is time to ask: Does any of this make sense?

Of course it doesn’t. Anyone who knows anything about teaching, learning, or child development would say that this doesn’t make sense, that it isn’t best practices, and is far from equitable. 

But it’s like the emperor with no clothes– when we ask questions, we’re told, “This is the future, accept it”; when we push back, we’re met with, “We’re not equipped for paper”; and when we ask to opt out, we’re informed, “That’s not an option.”

Madness.

Despite what schools or district administrators tell parents, opting out is actually an option. Some parents are able to get IEPs that exempt their children from using the internet or tech-based tools in the classroom. Some districts have Internet Opt-Out forms online (they’re usually hidden and often outdated). But no school or administrator is advertising this option, because they’ve moved so heavily into tech-based platforms that any non-tech alternatives require burdening teachers (yet again), which is also madness.

Worse, children who’ve encountered predators or porn on their school-issued devices are told by administrators, “Don’t be a pervert” (yes, this has happened); “The parents are responsible” (yes, even on school computers); “The child broke the rules” (yes, even though children are given these problematic devices by the schools in the first place). Yes, all real-world examples. 

The sad irony of all this is that any potential good is lost with all the bad. I do see an important role for technology skill-building in schools– in addition to critical thinking and executive function skills. Children do need to know how to navigate mis- and dis-information, cite sources, detect false imagery and words, and, at a baseline, type. But nearly all of that will come from instruction by a skilled educator, not an app or a digital platform. 

And as things currently stand, such a school does not exist. 

But tech-intentional schools are the future of education. This is what parents will seek out in the years to come, as more and more schools implement phone-free policies, and the curtain gets pulled back further on the uses and abuses of EdTech, and teachers demand to be made relevant and valued again, and children prefer humans to machines.   

Right now, parents are left with two extreme choices:

  1. ALL: Opting in completely to all the tech a school requires.

  2. NOTHING: Opting out completely, via a no-internet or no-1:1 policy.

Most parents aren’t even aware that there are options, or if they do, they are afraid to Opt Out entirely. I can understand that fear. Retaliation is real. 

But as I write about in the Epilogue of my book, in order for a school (ha) of fish to change directions while swimming, one first needs to pull away first…and then a second and third fish, to get the entire school (ha) to change direction.

I’m a first fish. I bet many of you reading this are first fish too. 

Which is why next year, as a first fish attempt, I am opting my daughter out of her 1:1 laptop and the internet for 7th grade. I don’t know how this is going to go– both the Math and Science curriculum are 100% digital. And I’ve been told that her English class will have 40 students in it (madness, again). But if I don’t test this, try this, push for this, nothing will change.

I’m a first fish, but I need a few other first and second and a third fishes to join me. 

Is that you?

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Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.