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Month: June 2018

Digital well-being for young children

Digital citizenship, the myth of digital ’addiction’, screen time and screenless devices as well as creative coding were some of the topics covered at the international DigiLitEY meeting in Riga on 21-22 June 2018. Experts from Australia, the United States and various European countries discussed these topics and analysed inspiring practice focusing especially on children aged 0 to 8. As we are approaching the end of this COST Action, a parents’ awareness raising campaign is also taking shape and was discussed by the special task force working on it during a half-day session.

The Bee Bot is a popular screenless device used for teaching coding to young children

Stephane Chaudron (Joint Research Centre) gave the initial inspiration by describing her research results on young children’s digital skills. It is totally clear that digital technology is only part of children’s lives, and as for use and abuse it is important to put down a cornerstone: children copy adult behaviour. According to this research children use technology for leisure, creating things, learning, collecting information and communication.

Parental moderation is most often only about limiting ‘screen time’, much less about limiting content, and only at a small extent about support or co-usage. It is also clear that less knowledgeable parents limit more while more skilled ones tend to support more. It is also clear that the more positive parents’ attitudes are towards technology, they more they support their children.

School usually supports a more positive image of technology if the children have tasks they need technology for solving. In the case of the target age group, 0-8 technology use is mostly happening at home, and their digital literacy is patchy and risky.

Food for thought about ‘technology addiction’ and ‘too much screen time’ was offered by David Kleeman (Dubit) and Sonia Livingstone (LSE). David Kleeman highlighted that screen time is a useless measure as there is a variety of uses and they qualify differently. The real problem is out-of-balance media use, but not only in the case of technology, it may happen with books. He also highlighted that there is a paradox of choice: children are often unable to find content they like because there is too much available.

Both speakers were talking about the negative effect of lots of scary communication towards parents. In this respect, later on, Elisabeth Milovidov, digital parenting coach asked the audience to google ‘internet addiction my child’ as compared to ‘internet well-being my child’. If you do this exercise, you will see for yourself the difference in the number of hits. She also reminded everybody that internet can be more addictive for those who are forbidden to use it.

In relation to addiction David Kleeman asked the (partly rhetorical) question if gaming addiction is an individual condition or part of other pathologies. When somebody is depressed and stays in bed, we don’t say that they are addicted to their beds. As most parents are also constantly online, there is a need to define a new normal with regards to technology use. It can be the basis for finding the border between addiction colloquially versus diagnostically. He suggested to use the notion of ‘functional impairment’ rather than addiction.

He also offered some solutions: time management tools where the children (alone or together with the parents) can pre-set when to go to sleep, using slow, reflective media, introducing classic play in daily routines, ethical media design by companies and efforts to increase media literacy.

Sonia Livingstone claimed that everything that is considered scientific data publicly, but also in professional circles, is about harm caused by screen time. Most of this data refers to correlation as if it was casualty. The current initiatives on banning phones in the UK (and France) are a result of this and a major backlash on BYOD (bring your own device) programmes that have evidence-based results.

In real life there would be a need to find the balance between risks and opportunities, but as the discourse is all about risks we need to fight for the recognition of benefits. Some of these benefits were highlighted from her new publication, Families and Screen Time showing how parents support their children in the digital home and who is offering support. According to research the second most frequent activity families do together is watching TV or movie, family meals being in the lead. It is also clear that parents often use technology to support the learning of their children. Parents are guided by several sources, the most often used source is the internet itself, but they are very likely to figure things out on their own, rely on advice by friends, relatives or their partner. The lack of solid guidance leads to anxiety, while parental mediation should not be about restriction, but enabling – luckily already the pre-dominant parental approach in practice.

Along these lines the parental awareness raising campaign will be launched soon, and we will share and promote it on these pages, too.

Breaking the silence together – preventing sexual abuse

The final conference of the European project „Breaking the silence together” was held in Noordwijk, the Netherlands on 15 June 2018. The event highlighted a major issue that ruins the lives of millions of children around the world: sexual abuse, and presented the tools developed in the project for its prevention using schools as a vehicle. One of the tools produced is a guide for parents and caregivers.

Sexual abuse research shows that 10-20% of children in Europe fall victim of it. There is little data on this as it is estimated that 90% of the cases remain a secret in childhood, a vast majority for lifetime, but the abuse has an effect on both the later life of abused children, and it clearly shows a correlation with absenteeism and not continuing education on higher levels.

The problem is made worse by that fact that an estimated 70-85% of abusers come from the circle of trust of children, and it makes the problem even more difficult. This fact is one of the reasons that an estimated 60% of victims do not receive any support, not even in adulthood. Abusers can come from the family circle (relatives or family friends), the school (teachers or peers), church, and it may take different forms from sexual assault to prostitution, trafficking and child pornography.

At the event, the Director General of the Dutch Ministry of Education talked about 3 major dilemmas: responsibility and the responsibility of schools in particular, the need for intervention and its timing, and the necessity of capacity building for teachers. In a panel discussion later the three dilemmas were addressed coming to the conclusion that schools necessarily have a role in prevention, not only teachers, but all school staff needs to receive a certain level of training, but finding solutions is the job of other professionals.

The project that was finished with this conference had an interesting consortium of traditionally conservative countries where talking about sexuality is even more difficult, Austria, Greece, Poland and Spain. The 5th partner, the European School Heads Association brought in a multi-perspective. During their working together they put together an interesting analysis of successful prevention programmes, developed a toolkit for school heads on implementing a community-based prevention programme, a related teachers’ manual, an awareness raising kit, included information for children on their website, created a set of cards that helps talking about sexual abuse and the guide for parents and caregivers mentioned earlier.

You will find details and more information on the project website: http://www.preventingchildsexualabuse.eu

How do education systems put student learning at the centre? – OECD Education Policy Dialogues 2018

OECD, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain, organized the first ever Education Policy Reform Dialogues in Madrid, Spain, on 11-12 June 2018. The purpose of this high-level forum was to create and strengthen a learning network of senior actors who are the key bridge between the political and technical worlds within a Ministry across OECD and non-OECD countries, in order to promote active exchanges of experiences and discuss lessons learned from OECD’s work on education policy on a yearly basis. The first part of the event was a Forum on stakeholder engagement and Parents International was invited to represent parents as main education stakeholders there.

The main aims of the peer-learning event were to

  • exchange on country experiences and the latest trends in education policies being implemented across the OECD area to address common challenges;
  • explore how countries are using evidence for policy reform or policy consolidation available to them as well as the transversal learning lessons that could be drawn; and
  • develop principles of policy change or consolidation in specific topics, based on comparative international evidence, to help countries reach their goals.

Participants came from a diverse group of OECD counties from Austria to Turkey (in alphabetical orders). The event was moderated by the former Minister of Education of New Zealand, Hekia Parata with special contribution from former Assistant Deputy Minister of Ontario, Canada, Mary Jane Gallagher. The outcomes of these discussions will also inform the future policy work of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills according to the organisers.

At the beginning of the event Andreas Schleicher, Director of OECD Education shared his thoughts on the occasion of launching the new OECD Education Policy Outlook – Putting Student Learning in the Centre. He highlighted a number of important issues most education systems are yet to tackle such as

  • the fact that teaching reading should become teaching critical reading as you cannot surely trust a printed source anymore;
  • with people spending more time online it is important to make sure we do not become slaves of the online world;
  • the growing gap between the needs of societies and what school can provide;
  • the fact that teaching and school-related learning time does not have a direct impact on actual learning, but rather the opposite is often true;
  • the fact that while class sizes are usually smaller for disadvantaged students and countries consider that a solution for equity, the reverse is true for teacher quality: privileged students can usually benefit from having better teachers, and thus equity is not achieved;
  • the necessity of cross-cutting measures in changing curricula in order to find answers to the challenge of delivering on skills for the future;
  • the need to train teachers better, to give them more space and encourage interdisciplinary learning and teaching
  • the need to find solutions for well-intended policies to reach classroom level;
  • the need to increase the quality of vocational education and training; and
  • the fact that while teachers know students learn best if they find solutions themselves, school practice and testing is still based on memorisation.

The main organiser of the event, Diana Toledo-Figueroa of OECD highlighted the importance of involving both students and parents in policy discussions and reform in order to have a shared understanding of principles and goals. The perception of schools is strongly influenced by what happens outside of school. Her colleague, Beatriz Pont, focusing on policy implementation, called the participants’ attention to the fact that education policy reform is not a linear process anymore. While you have to consider the context such as teacher training, resources, the necessary alignment with what is happening on the ground, you also have to be aware of possible reform fatigue, and of other processes and making synergies with them. She summarised the 4 elements of successful policy implementation: smart policy design, inclusive stakeholder engagement, conductive context and coherent policy implementation. The goal of the dialogue is to ensure this for making change happen on the ground for better learning.

Larissa Nenning, representing European secondary school students via OBESSU shared different practices for student participation highlighting that while involvement is increasing at grassroots level, it is still stagnant on national level, and its quality needs to be improved as it is still mostly traditional and it is not clear what impact it has on actual policy.

John Bangs, representing Education International the global teacher trade union indicated the link between strong trade unions and strong learning outcomes. He emphasised that while trade unions generally feel partly engaged in policy reform, there is still a lot to be done in the field of involvement in implementation and evaluation, too.

The business perspective was presented by Miriam Pinto who advocated for alignment of education systems and the future of work, especially soft skills, and mentioned historic inertia as the main obstacle. She called for effective education reforms on policy, system and stakeholder level at the same time.

Mary Jane Gallagher, previously responsible for a highly effective education reform in Ontario, Canada shared the shocking reality that

children are learning less the longer they are exposed to formal education.

She made it clear that most reforms fail on implementation level, especially because system complexity is usually underestimated, that means only a few necessary elements are tackled of the many instrumental for change teaching practices. She called policy makers to inspire greatness of all stakeholders. She also introduced the necessity to learn to direct your own learning, otherwise you will not become a lifelong learner while it is necessary for the future.

Presenting the parents’ perspective, Director of Parents International, Eszter Salamon recalled the international legal basis, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on parental responsibilities and governments’ obligation to finance education systems that support parents’ education duties. She called for a shift from involving the parents into existing reforms and processes towards engaging us in designing, implementing and evaluating reform. The major difference between engagement at policy and at grassroots level was also emphasised. She also advocated for involving all parents, even the most disadvantaged, as well as to implement structures – often missing today – that make meaningful rather than formal engagement of both parents and children possible. She also highlighted the important role of school heads as key actors in changing practices. She called for education reforms that have a holistic, lifelong learning approach, acknowledging all stages and forms of education: formal, non-formal, informal from early childhood to old age. Education policy should also listen to and reward non-formal education especially since there seem to be more successful equity and inclusion practices in non-formal than formal education. It is important to ask the right questions and use the right language (as well as implement non-discriminative funding) for the necessary improvement of learning outcomes regardless the form and place of learning.

OECD is planning to organise the Dialogue annually and we are looking forward to being part of it.