Exposure to technology from an early age may change the way our brains are wired. The creation of such “digital natives,” could change the way that teachers instruct children in the future says Sir Peter Gluckman, chief science adviser to the New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key.
Covering the story, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) reported that such changes may require a different brand of teacher able to help children make sense of information beyond the teacher’s own control.
Sir Gluckman spoke addressing the parliament’s review of “21st Century Learning Environments and Digital Literacy.” Today’s tots and tweens were likened to “guinea pigs” of the brave new world where technology if ubiquitous, but which is not fully understood.
While the Post Primary Teachers' Association notes that the suggestion of rewiring is going too far, neuroscientist Dr. Cathy Stinear says children’s brains do change when exposed to technology. Multitasking, for instance, changes the ways in which information is processed—the speed at which data is taken in, too. Babies’ brains are suited to learning and retaining information.
As technology is increasingly integrated into curricula across much of the world and children spend more time using cell phones, tablets, video games and computers, teachers and students alike must keep up with changing classrooms.
Education, Children and the Digital Divide(s)
Technology is at the root of other issues in education, too. For instance, children on the other side of the digital divide—those from low-income families—may have less access and familiarity with technology than their digital-native peers.
Last month, the Huffington Post reported that online exams are becoming increasingly popular across the US. And, while many students are at ease using the technology, there is a cross-section of children who don’t have much access. Some fear this would mean tests measure familiarity with technology and not academic ability, said Douglas Levin of the State Educational Technology Directors Association to the Post.
In the US, for instance, only 40 per cent of households making less than $20,000 a year have broadband Internet access at home, as compared to an overall rate of three-in-five. Half of the Hispanic population and just above 40 per cent of African-Americans lack broadband.
Income disparities also exist in what children use technology for outside of school, resulting in a new kind of digital divide.
According to an article by the New York Times in May of this year, access to digital devices has spread and now poor children are spending more time than their wealthier peers using gadgets for social media, playing games and watching videos. Researchers and policy-makers are calling this the “time-wasting gap.” It is more an issue of parents’ digital know-how and monitoring of technology, rather than an access issue.
“Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,” said Vicky Rideout, author of a decade-long study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, to The Times.