Is the biggest challenge of connectivity learning to disconnect?

A New York Times article called ” Hypocrisy thrives at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in the heart of Silicon Valley” reveals a controversial discovery by journalist Gal Beckerman: one-third of the Waldorf schools in the United States are in California, and three-quarters of their students are the children of employees of Google, Yahoo, Apple, eBay and HP, among other technology companies.

Considering that the Waldorf pedagogical methodology has among its bases the least possible dependence of pre-established contents and that they prefer to use the minimum amount possible of digital technologies in the classroom, it is funny that the children of the technological giants study under a system that privileges the game, empathy and creativity over technology and the specific abilities that the sector demands from its lower-ranking employees.

Children of senior technology company executives write with chalk on boards, weave with wool, play with beanbags and learn fractions by cutting apples“, while they are not allowed to use digital devices, the report states.

“Teachers and books for the rich, robots and screens for the poor?”

This is the question asked by specialist Mercedes Mateos, leader of the Education Division of the Inter-American Development Bank ⎯IADB⎯, regarding the aforementioned New York Times article. In this article it is highlighted the fact that while connectivity is offered in developing countries, as the best solution to “decrease the gaps” and “increase the competencies”, there is a marked tendency among the most privileged of the industrialized countries to streamline the use of technology among adults, promote disconnection in certain spaces and restrict access for the child population:

Latin America and the Caribbean is increasingly investing in technological equipment and digital resources to bridge the skills gap in the labor market and the learning gap between high- and low-income students. When contrasting these efforts with the description by the New York Times of how the most privileged people learn, it is worth asking whether technology, after all, could potentially increase inequality in skills and learning“.

Mercedes Mateos

A global trend

Visiting libraries is one of the fastest growing family activities in recent years in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The promotion of reading on paper for children is one of the highest priorities in the educational agenda of governments and parents, there are even state libraries dedicated especially to children, as the innovative Rüm for Barn of the Stockholm House of Culture, or the House of Literature in Oslo, or the hundreds of Danish libraries that besides having many books and being for free, also offer spaces for games, learning and life experiences, among many other activities during all weekends.

On the other hand, a law of zero tolerance to all digital devices in schools was approved in France: cell phones, tablets and smart watches cannot be used in any educational space by children under 15 years old. France is not the only country, since many other European nations have been discussing the regulation of the use of these devices in schools, being a growing trend of the first world countries to restrict them completely in these spaces.

It is not a moralistic issue, but a matter of survival

The trend of restricting the use of technological devices in minors is not accidental; it is a survival issue that technology executives and developers in Silicon Valley have long identified:

“In the world of automation, it is a priority to teach young people what machines will not do, because jobs that require imagination, creativity and strategy are harder to computerize”. Mercedes Mateos

In other words, the indiscriminate and unguided use of digital devices can not only produce anxiety and depression in children, as indicated by the WHO and UNICEF, but it also limits the development of skills associated with imagination, creativity, strategic thinking, social problem solving, among other skills.

“Letting a child connect to the Internet alone is just as dangerous as leaving him alone in a park” Fernando Zapata Duque

ICTs should be understood as tools or means and not as purposes in themselves, recognizing that by virtue of the inherent convergence in which they have been developed, they serve equally to connect, play, study or carry out criminal activities or access dangerous content. It is only the appropriate and rational approach to use that guarantees that a connected device serves to build and not to destroy.

“It is not a question of abandoning the use of digital tools, it is a question of using them properly, stimulating their use as teaching and learning tools”. Fernando Zapata Duque

The lack of appropriation strategies in Latin America

As we discussed earlier in the article “The disjointed and anecdotal ICT policies”, a successful strategy of social appropriation does not just involve technology, connecting for the sake of connecting, or the deployment of networks; it requires comprehensive training that should begin with teachers. This is why the State needs to invest a lot of time and resources in ensuring that teachers and parents are trained to use the equipment and subsequently to teach their students and children, especially in rural sectors.

Without a doubt, the most important thing is to make teachers aware of the fact that ICTs are very powerful tools at all levels, urban and rural, as long as they are managed properly and for teaching purposes.

“In the same way that the mediation of parents and teachers was very relevant for the consumption of traditional media by promoting critical television viewing, we must also encourage mediations for the rational use of digital devices and applications” Fernando Zapata Duque

But it is not only a matter of rational use by minors, but also of encouraging responsible appropriation by adults at all levels, since in many cases the advent of technology does not represent a cognitive, social or cultural progression, as in most cases its only use is to communicate and consume entertainment.

Why do we connect?

Latin America is plagued with failed and unfinished connectivity projects. One of the most visible cases is the Vive Digital project, a well-known strategy implemented in Colombia less than a decade ago, which with multimillionaire investments served to extend thousands of kilometers of optical fiber to the most remote places in the territory.

At that time, the Colombian Government of President Juan Manuel Santos promised that millions of citizens would have access to high-speed Internet in more than a thousand municipalities; however, reality showed that although fiber optics were fully deployed, less than 300 municipalities make efficient and rational use of it; Vive Digital points, public spaces in each municipality where connectivity and equipment were available, have been dismantled over time and, eventually, the only achievement was to improve connectivity in certain areas of the country, without this being reflected in real improvements in the quality of life indicators of citizens.

A study conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte, among users of mobile devices connected to the Internet, concluded that the most frequent activity performed on the phone is watching short videos, followed by video game consumption and use of social networks. The same study showed that 77% of the interviewed people recognize that they use “too much” mobile devices.

There is no doubt that, although these consumer habits are not necessarily related to the digital but rather to the characteristics of each society, education that starts with autonomy and creativity and leaves technology in the background may help this transition to be liberating and not enslaving. And that is what the parents of the technological giants seem to have understood when choosing the pedagogical model for their children.

In conclusion, while it is important to promote connectivity and the use of devices, as well as digital applications, it is necessary to accompany it with appropriation processes, otherwise we would simply be changing technologies without guaranteeing educational, social or cultural improvements.

These processes must begin at school, and as soon as possible, in order to provide children with the necessary autonomy and criteria so that they can then manage the use of technological devices. Conversely, indiscriminate expansion could trigger decreases in quality of life indicators. And that, as we have emphasized, is an issue that needs to be prevented from the first education.








Gabriel E. Levy B.

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.