Syyed Mansoor Agha dwells upon the ill-effects online education through the use of smartphones has left on pupils.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many ill-effects upon our lives. Shutdowns caused a loss of schooling. ‘Online education’ catastrophically increased handling of smartphones by tender hands. Sure, it introduced youngsters to the new technology yet, studies reveal, it diminished their level of concentration and damaged their success levels. Another terrific effect noted is upon their health, vigour, and activeness; for, enhanced gluing to such devices reduces physical activity, a key for health upkeep.

‘Online education’, devised as an alternate to schooling, evidently failed to maintain the spirit and speed of academic excellence. A US-based research engineer Katherine Lee, attached with Google, finds, “Children who watch a lot of tvs/ (or use a smartphone) are more likely to have lower grades and read fewer books.” Further “cutting down kids’ screen time may improve their health and grades.” Lee pointed out in a recent study, “Technology can be a great source of learning and entertainment, but there are health implications of screen time that parents should consider.”

DISTRACTION ALL-ROUND

Sherri Gordon, an author of nearly 30 books on wellness and wellbeing of teens and tweens, analysed the problem of smartphones creating distractions in studies. Her study found that students spend “around 20% of their time, while the teacher is instructing, surfing the net, texting, posting or even playing games.” The end result is that teachers feel uncomfortable and the students are “only half-present in the classroom.”

Another study shows that students check their devices more than 11 times a day. “And, it is not just a quick glance” – but often engagement for longer.

But the students don’t realise this problem fully. Nearly 30% of them claim they could use their devices without distracting from their learning. More than 25% argue it is their choice if they want to use a device while class was taking place. More than 11% felt they could not stop themselves from using their devices whether in the classroom or while studying. In fact, distraction destroys concentration and the degree of caching points taught by a teacher or written in the text.

IMPACT ON TEACHING AND LEARNING

Such behaviour of some students disturbs the teacher’s flow, his/ her enthusiasm, attention, and flow of deliverance; so it hurts the whole class. A research study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology indicates that surrounding distraction hurts even the students who avoid the use of such devices in classrooms.

Another study conducted by Stanford University, California shows that “intense multitasking decreases the efficiency of completing a given task. Smartphones and other such devices can reduce students’ ability to think to their full potential.”

According to a research book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, “The students’ attention is divided between two tasks – what the teacher is trying to teach and what the student is trying to do on the digital device. The result is that fewer items regarding those two tasks will be able to be recalled later or retained by the mind.”

The research conducted by Neuroscientist Adam Aron of the University of California, San Diego and postdoctoral scholar Jan Wessel found that “the brain system that is involved in interrupting or stopping movement in our bodies also interrupts thought and reasoning…. An abrupt distraction clears out what you were thinking (or what the teacher was teaching).”

SCREEN-TIME LIMIT

The scientific studies link the addiction of using smartphones in bed before sleep to more attention deficit and also sleeplessness. But 23.8% of schoolchildren are in the grip of this badness. To curtail the damage, the American Academy of Paediatrics and the World Health Organisation have recommended that screen time for young children should not exceed two hours a day.

Once smartphones in hand, students can engage in seeing violent or vulgar content, abusing and bullying which is dangerously risky for youngsters. This demands proper vigil and restrictions on content. “Social media platforms contain and disperse such a variety of content, a lot of which is neither appropriate nor conducive for children,” underlines the report of the survey conducted in India by NCPCR (National Commission for Protections of Child Rights). Therefore, experts strongly recommend youngsters below 13 years should not be allowed to freely entertain social media. Yet it is found that 37.8% of children below 13 years, surveyed in a recent study, have their own FB accounts and another 24.3% on Instagram accounts.

IN INDIAN SCHOOLS

The NCPCR studied the relation between smartphone addiction vis-à-vis loss of concentration. The study finds the frequency of children’s use of the device while studying almost exactly mirrored the frequency of loss of concentration.

The survey was conducted earlier this year. In all 60 sample schools were selected from three categories (private high-income schools, budget private schools and government schools) situated in Delhi, Guwahati (Assam), Ranchi (Jharkhand), Bhubaneswar (Odisha), Hyderabad (Telangana) and Mumbai (Maharashtra). Six schools were taken from each metropolitan city, four from its adjoining urban and two from its rural areas. In all 5,811 participants (3,491 school-children, 1,534 parents and 786 teachers) were interviewed. The male and female ratio was 50.9% and 49.1%.

FINDINGS

Findings almost mirrored similar studies in the west. It was found that over one-third of schoolchildren checked their smartphones regularly while studying. 78.9% said they spent average of two hours on smartphones daily, playing games, listening to music, and chatting. Another 15.4% spent 2 to 4 hours, and 5.3% more than 4 hours daily. 54.1% of the teachers shared their experience that the use of smartphones in the classroom is distracting and disturbing. Interestingly, 72.7% of teachers refused prior experience of using such devices.

REDUCED CONCENTRATION

The study revealed that approximately 37.15% of smartphone-using children, always or frequently, experienced reduced levels of concentration. 13.9% of students always used phones while studying. Accordingly, 13.85% always felt concentration loss. 23.3% used frequently and in the same ratio were those who felt concentration loss frequently. 30.1% belong to the seldom users and the same is the ratio of seldom loser of concentration.

It was found 30.2% of the children (8 to 18 years) possess their own device while 62.6% used their parents’ phones. 94.8% of students claimed they use phones for online education only, while 52.9% loved chatting on social platforms. Only 10.1% of children liked to use smartphones for skill learning activities. Alarmingly, 42.9% of respondents among children confessed to having social networking accounts (Facebook 36.8%, Instagram 45.5%).

More than 40% lamented that the closure of schools during the pandemic had impacted negatively upon their studies. Over 70% of teachers covered in the survey were first-time users of the electronic device. The study was done under the title “Effects of Use of Mobile Phone & Other Devices with Internet on School Children” was aimed to study physical, behavioural, and psycho-social effects on children for using internet devices.

The report advised that schools should teach safe, legal, and ethical use of information technology, promote and model responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information. “More than 90% children think that the world has become addicted to cell phones whereas 72% believe that using the internet has increased their creativity. However, most parents are aware of the ill effects of smartphone addiction. About 76.2% of the parents said they had set time limits for Internet device use by their children. But they need to overcome their own love with such gadgets.

In our opinion, any blanket ban on mobiles in schools will not be acceptable for most parents. The problem of attention distraction is not limited to classrooms but also at workplaces. Many offices stop workers to take their phones in the work area. Phones are deposited at the entry points. This practice has a clue for schools also.

[The writer is Chairman, Forum for Civil Rights. email: [email protected]]

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