Is the honeymoon over for connected classrooms?

Some argue it’s techno-scepticism disguised as a return to traditional values. Others would say all we know for certain about tech in the classroom is its ability to distract. But what if a stand against connected classrooms is actually another opportunity to teach?

While more children than ever are enrolled in school across the globe, according to a recent report by UNICEF, a considerable percentage are still not learning, with many children lacking foundational reading and numeracy skills. Could technology be to blame? In short: it’s not that simple.

What we do know is that more than two-thirds of the world’s population now uses a mobile phone and that the constant interruptions we can face as a result of them can induce physical and mental stress. The Netherlands’ decision to ban smartphones and most technology from classrooms, which took effect in January 2024, therefore seems like a logical step.

Nonetheless, it remains equally true that evidence for the positive impact of other classroom technologies such as interactive whiteboards and tablets isn’t as straightforward. Numerous factors play a role in education. So, why are countries still pulling the plug?

A big part of this is about underlining the importance of a teacher’s traditional role – one that is arguably being undermined daily by how readily available information is to students with technology. This is echoed by the Technology in Education report issued by UNESCO which urges that technology in education should never replace teacher-led instruction.

However, does the fear of replacement justify schools turning their backs completely on tools that could potentially benefit both teachers and students alike? Mobile phones may not serve a role in classrooms, but that’s not to say there’s no room for collaboration of any kind with technology.

Perhaps a better question is not whether connected classrooms are good for learning, but why we’ve chosen to connect in the ways that we have. Learning how to use technology well starts with understanding what we’re trying to achieve with it. As opposed to just using it to keep up with the times, there should be a goal that technology is helping us work towards.

With that in mind, maybe a baby step backward from technology in classrooms isn’t the worst idea. Some form of disconnect throughout the day could help students build healthier relationships with the technology they’ve grown up with. What’s more, by establishing parameters for how it’s used, schools could help reframe connection as a conscious choice – not an expectation.

Ultimately, removing technology from classrooms won’t change the fact that it exists. Some degree of connection in classrooms opens up a dialogue. We can teach students that while the world will continue to change and offer us new tools, what we do with them, and how they can help us, is always our choice.

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