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Summary – Education: The Digital Dilemma – To Use or to Be Used

Workshop: Education: The Digital Dilemma – To Use or to Be Used

Christopher Clouder

Main Speaker:
Prof. Paula Bleckmann

Hannah Grainger-Clemson, Nóra Milotay, Prof. Dr. Els Laenens

Clara Aerts, Georg Jürgens

The Workshop “Education: The Digital Dilemma – To Use or to Be Used” was co-organised by the International Association for Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education (IASWECE) and the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE). As the educational debate at EU level is focusing more and more on the acquisition of digital skills and media competence, and is mainly driven by economic arguments, both organisations felt the need to balance this one-sided discussion by shifting the focus towards well-being and looking for a more holistic approach to teaching IT- and Media Literacy.

After introductory words by Christopher Clouder, Director research SEE, Botin Foundation, Ed., the floor was given to Prof. Dr. Paula Bleckmann. Her keynote speech highlighted the common goal of media pedagogy that she defined as “preventing screen risks and reaping screen benefits”. Experts disagree on how to reach that goal. While some call for an early use of digital technology, suggesting that children starting late might have difficulties with catching up, others stress the need for an age- and developmentally appropriate media pedagogy. The latter is best achieved by striving for “media maturity”, the ability to make an informed choice on whether and how to best use digital media in order to achieve one's goals.

An early use of digital technology runs counter to this goal and increases children’s’ risks of media addiction. Every hour of screen time takes away 1.5 hours of valuable time for free play and learning through direct interaction and thus prevents children from developing their sensorimotor integration and the communicative abilities.

On the other hand, the positive effects of using digital devices in kindergarten and school remain questionable: A recent OECD report on Students, Computers and Learning questions the potential of using ICT tools for learning and concludes that “ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics will do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services.”

Paula Bleckmann suggests a developmental approach that lays the foundations of direct media pedagogy by initially promoting sensorimotor integration and fostering the communicative abilities. Only once these capacities have been well developed, media pedagogy should foster the productive and later the receptive abilities of the child. Finally the ability of critical reflection is developed and allows for a meaningful use of digital technology that justifies its pedagogical use.

Parental support is highly beneficial to this approach and implies critical reflection of the parents own patterns of media use in front of children. Direct interaction and active involvement are key to a healthy child development.

The following panel featured contributions from Hannah Grainger-Clemson, DG Education and Culture, European Commission, Nóra Milotay, Research Department, European Parliament and Prof. Dr. Els Laenens, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Antwerp.

Hannah Grainger-Clemson introduced the work of the European Commission on key competencies and highlighted the importance of creating meaningful learning experiences that are oriented towards the needs of the individual learners. In this regard, she suggested giving more freedom to the teacher to choose the appropriate teaching methods. She also called for a more nuanced view on the application of digital technology.

Nóra Milotay refers to what research on the use of digital media is needed from a policy perspective, how research communicates with policy and finally, what should be further explored. She recommends to specifically focus on 1.) the child-developmental perspective, 2.) the effect of the multitasking world on cognition, 3.) the cost and benefits of digital media, 4.) evidence on e-learning, 5.) the integration of commercial software into education and 6. quality.
Els Laenens suggests a well-being focus in education. Education should first and foremost foster empathy and independent thinking. Exposing children to digital media implies providing a huge amount of information that distracts children deprives them of stimuli to think for themselves. An early use of digital technology could thus be seen as a distraction from learning.

In the following debate, participants pointed out the need to include into the discussion the need for media maturity also of the teacher or parent and the view points of parents and young people.

Both ECSWE and IASWECE will continue working on this important topic. Next steps to be explored: drafting position papers, making concrete recommendations for development appropriate media curricula and collecting research for both internal use and advocacy.

Summary by Georg Jürgens
November 2016