Media & Technology Philosophy
The question isn’t whether technology can add value in schools, but whether it adds more than it takes away. This question is from a news article recently carried in one of the UK’s national newspapers. Edinburgh Steiner School’s approach to the use of technology is guided by the same philosophy that steers the entire curriculum: The Right Thing At The Right Time. Waldorf schools carefully consider the classroom and campus environment for children so that wonder, imagination and creativity thrive. Technological literacy – a crucial 21st Century skill – can be mastered quickly when children reach adolescence and have the developmental maturity to know how, why, and when to use technology as a tool. Yet it is incompatible in the younger years with the holistic education we are striving to deliver.
At Edinburgh Steiner School – alongside its 1,100 sister schools and over 2,000 Kindergartens following the internationally-recognized Steiner Waldorf curriculum – blackboards, paper and pencils are used over iPads to enhance the engaging transmission of education from teacher to pupil. Stories, told by the teacher, play a key role in fully meeting the developmental needs of younger pupils, requiring them to create their own mental pictures and imaginations. The school day is steeped in the arts, where singing, drama, music, painting, movement and drawing occur daily. Mobiles are put away on school grounds by pupils, teachers and parents – creating a community that interacts in person.
Calling for social media and gaming to be excluded from school life, Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) told a conference in Edinburgh:
Neuroscientists tell us that there is an impact of social media and gaming on the way the brain works…it is creating increasing isolation and increasing stress for a significant number of young people and that alternative reality will have ramifications for society”.
Fellow Steiner school, Waldorf School of the Peninsula, has a comprehensive section of its website dedicated to its Media & Technology Philosophy. Situated in Silicon Valley, which serves as a global center for high technology, innovation, venture capital, and social media, The New York Times sparked national media coverage with a story on why its parents are turning to Waldorf education. Why?
About three quarters of the parents work in technology in some way”, says Pierre Laurent, Technology Executive and Board President of WSP. Asked by the BBC about the role of computers in schools, he replies: “Human capacities are not developed in front of a screen. You need to be engaged with making things and doing things yourself”.
Steiner schools do not shy away from engaging in critical debate about the appropriate use of computers, TV and DVD. Since that front page article in 2011, Walorf School of the Peninsula (WSP) has been featured in more than 30 newspaper stories around the world. In addition to news coverage, representatives from WSP were invited and served as panelists for both the 2012 Google Big Tent conference at the Google Mountain View headquarters and the New York Times “Schools for Tomorrow” conference in NYC. They, like the many Steiner Waldorf schools found in some 80 countries including Scotland, find the use of computers incompatible with the holistic and humanly truthful quality of education we are striving to deliver before the Upper School teenage years.
A familiarity with all the technologies that surround us and influence our lives is an essential part of a complete education. In the Upper School curriculum, Steiner Waldorf education embraces technology in ways that enhance the learning process, by using it as a tool, rather than replace the role of the teacher; and pupils quickly master the technology. Edinburgh Steiner School is situated in a city viewed as a miniature Silicon Valley, with an ambition to become the data capital of Europe. It has a leading tech ecosystem, with an estimated 66,000 people employed in the sector (7% of the workforce). This is larger than the hospitality industry; and many Steiner Waldorf graduates have gone on to successful careers in the tech, film and TV industries. The curriculum is complimented at Edinburgh Steiner School by an after-school Computer Coding Club for Classes 8 – 12.
Concern regarding the use of technology is not restricted to Steiner schools. Ongoing research continues to suggest that many professionals who work with children are becoming increasingly concerned that TV, smartphones and computer games are associated with an increase in significantly disturbed behaviour among some children; and the pervasive use of computers in the classroom is having a negative impact on key aspects of children’s learning.
The World Health Organisation‘s screen time recommendations (2019) note:
0 – 2 yrs: ‘not recommended’.
2 – 5 yrs: ‘no more than 1 hour; less is better’
U.S. Department of Health (2020) ‘health improvement priorities’ ‘disease prevention objective: PA-8 ‘recommended limits for screen time’: 2 – 17 yrs ‘outside of school (for nonschool work) for ‘no more than 2 hours a day’
‘Make bedrooms a TV- and computer/laptop and phone-free zone’
‘set “no screen time” rules to encourage kids to be active’
In addition to the comprehensive information provided by WSP (See Media & Technology Philosophy), further articles are linked to in the sidebar (right). The School’s Parent’s Handbook covers the School policy. For Playgroup and Kindergarten children, this is addressed in the Early Years Handbook.
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