Who Will Teach Our Future Generations?

Online school accelerated the use of technology in elementary schools. But now that students are back to in-person learning, then why has the extra screen time remained in place?

By Sameen Qazi | Featured image via iStock

Upon first glance, Anthi Scarafile’s second-grade room looks like any other elementary school classroom over the years. It’s full of bright colours, art hanging on walls, and large lesson boards taking up the rest of the space. Upon closer inspection, however, the changes lie in the excess grey in the room, bleeding away from the bright colours splashed over the rest of the space like a rainbow in the process of fading away.  

Anthi Scarafile, a tall brunette in her early 40s, has shoulder length hair as straight as the way she sits in her chair, her shoulders relaxed, and a confident smile playing on her lips. Being a married mother of two young girls, it makes it easy to understand her confidence in her role as a second-grade teacher at Brandon Gate Public School – an elementary school in Mississauga, Ontario, and her workplace for the last 14 years. 

Thanks to the pandemic, Scarafile’s classroom is cluttered with technology that wasn’t there before. Though it was necessary, online school accelerated the use of technology in elementary schools. But now that students are back to in-person learning, the question remains as to why the extra screen time stayed.  

Brain development and educational research suggests that screens should be used wisely when it comes to younger children, but elementary students are now using devices for most of their classes; typing instead of writing, and searching answers on Google instead of combing through a book. The education system has largely changed over the years due to technology, and it is still unsure whether that is an asset or a liability. 

According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an American non-profit organization that focuses on major health care issues facing the nation, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media, while older children and teenagers spend up to (or more than) 11 hours per day. Schools have embraced the shift to technology as well, with reports showing that 63 percent of K–12 teachers use technology in their classrooms everyday.  

“Technology has definitely been something that I’m working on. Just like technology is evolving, I’m evolving as a teacher all the time, learning new technology,” Scarafile says. Despite being a teacher for 21 years, her teaching style is constantly changing and shifting. Not wanting to remain stagnant, after completing the mandatory 5 Additional Qualification Courses (AQ Courses) required for elementary teachers, she has paid for 11 additional ones out of her own pocket.  

“That’s my own learning,” she says. “I want to be able to speak to people and say ‘Yeah, I’ve done that!’ I’m learning about this, and it’s a lot of professional development as well.” 

Teacher Librarians Play Essential Role 

Each year, all teachers in Ontario are legally required to prepare an Annual Learning Plan (ALP). The purpose of the ALP is to provide a space for teachers to write down their goals for the school year and what they want to learn about. One thing Scarafile never forgets to jot down each year is “computers and all things technology.” She credits her success and comfort level with the increasing technology in her classroom to Megan Roach, the teacher librarian at Brandon Gate Public School.  

Teacher librarians can play a vital role in facilitating learning with technology in schools. Roach’s librarian duties include, but aren’t limited to: developing a love of reading in students, growing literacy skills using fiction and non-fiction materials, building computer skills for students to become independent, thoughtful, and critical researchers, and giving access to programs, resources, and integrated technologies. 

This year, more schools are transforming their school library into a learning commons that integrates technology with the traditional library. The library is now a collaborative space where classes can access school-wide resources such as robotics kits, specialized software, and computer labs. 

“These kids learn so quickly. If I’m introducing a new app or educational website to them in one of our library sessions, they light up. By the end of the period, they’re masters. It’s fascinating, but it’s also frightening because especially after the pandemic, these second-graders are now more comfortable clicking away on computers than they are at writing with paper and pencils,” Roach says.  

Data released by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that provides parents with entertainment and technology guidance, revealed that the pandemic sent an estimated 1.5 billion children around the globe home by the end of April 2020. Being stuck at home has made children spend excessive time in front of screens, from TVs to smartphones to tablets. According to Qustodio, a software developer that allows parents to supervise their child’s messages and social media posts, online activity on children’s devices doubled in the early days of the pandemic.  

The World Health Organization released a study in 2019 detailing that the overuse of devices by young children causes them to become overstimulated. This lowers their attention span and has a negative impact on reading comprehension, working memory, and has been proven to increase psychological problems as well. 

Scarafile also noticed a shift in the reading and writing comprehension her students demonstrated after learning remotely. “Digital teaching became the way of teaching for the next two years. Many children in my grade 2 class have a hard time writing now because they became so used to typing. The kids I had in grade 2 are now in grade 4, and some of them are still not reading and writing. So it’s really affected these kids,” she says. 

Some teachers also fear that computers could replace them in the classroom. The rise of the internet and the easy access to information has now made it possible for students to use technology to answer any question they may have. This access to knowledge that is essentially at their fingertips can make many question the need for a full-time teacher in the classroom. 

Trying to get her students to think critically, Scarafile showed them a video of robotic servers in the restaurant chain, Denny’s. She then asked the kids, “Who does this affect?” and they immediately got it. It’s the people who are supposed to be working who will be the most affected. She asked her students afterwards, “Is Mrs. Scarafile going to be replaced by computers?” They were laughing and giggling at the question, not understanding the enormity of what a world without teachers will look like.  

When it comes to technology in the classroom, it seems that Scarafile’s way of teaching means she does her best to provide a balance. She likes to read physical books to them with expressions, stopping at parts of the story and getting them to think. Her dedication to her role as a teacher for these young kids navigating a newly opened up world is more than admirable.  

“Yes, technology is good, but I do think there needs to be moderation. In grade 2 classrooms, I think we have a good balance,” Scarafile says. “We still have technology, but they’re still learning to read and write, and I think that’s important.” 

Freelance writer Sameen Qazi can be reached at sameen.qazi25@gmail.com. 

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