ELIANT Conference November 28th, 2017
TOWARDS A HEALTHY DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM
Opening Panel, Summary
Have courage to act against all odds – be like the legendary hummingbird1!
This could easily have been the motto for more than 160 participants at the conference on digital literacy organized by Alliance ELIANT in Brussels on the 28th of November: "Towards a healthy digital ecosystem: values, competencies & responsibilities".
The conference opened with a short welcoming address by Dr. med. Michaela Glöckler, President of Alliance ELIANT. She kindly greeted all attendees and expressed thankfulness to their participation before moving on to present the main goal of the event: collecting new ideas and drawing helpful lessons to provide young children with the capability to create the best conditions for growing up with full human potential “in a more and more fully digitalized world”.
Martine Reicherts, Director General for Education and Culture at the EU Commission, gave an opening speech, raising several issues regarding the topic of digitalization. Participants at the conference were advised to act like the hummingbird in the North American legend – each person must do what they can even though it may at first appear insignificant. M/s. Reicherts emphasized that there is a need to change the paradigm of learning towards much more skill sharing and life-long learning. “We need to return the human being to the centre of society. (…) That is why we need you” urged M/s. Reicherts showing the importance of the digital debate organized by ELIANT.
Yet, progress cannot and must not be halted. The role of adults, teachers and decision-makers is to teach children how to think critically and not become slaves of the devices. This, however, couldn’t be done in Kindergarten, one participant noted, a place that should be kept, as another member of the public later expressed it - a "device-free oasis".
Referring to the Education Summit planned for the end of January in Brussels, she added:
"People like you are needed, it's a question of heart, friendship and common values and we should focus on all that unites us even if we see many things differently."
The second speaker of the opening panel, Prof. Fuchs, an international expert on embodied cognitive science, spoke of how physical activity, social interaction and emotional engagement form the basis of human cognition. Cognition, emotion and action always work together as an integral unit. The brain is not a hard drive or a computer, but an organ that continuously interacts with the world.
With modern computers the space and in-depth perception that is needed for a long lasting retention of experiences, is entirely lacking. Experiences that shape the brain are of utmost importance in early childhood, together with "emotional schemes” that serve for bonding and development of basic empathy between mother and child. There is a connection between the increasing numbers of attention deficit, so as learning disabilities, and the early use of digital devices. The professor quoted the results of a research done by John Hattie that show how digital media is not effective in helping individual learning. The teacher has the most important role and should behave as an "activator", ergo approaching the student with warmth and respect.
In the last part of his lecture Prof. Fuchs explained how the sensory, motor, cognitive and social structure of digital media is undermining the healthy development of the child. He referred to the rapid change of stimuli causing distraction and disembodiment, the impaired motor skills that impact cognitive and social learning, the dominance of speed over content and meaning, the total absorption in the “here and now” blinding out past and future and widely acknowledged dependency on devices.
After presenting this list of alarming studies prof. Fuchs concluded by saying: "Holistic learning means learning through understanding, feeling and acting. All three capacities are simultaneously engaged when a child interacts physically with its environment. (…) The excessive use of digital media could have severe consequences for a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development."
At the end Prof. Fuchs invited parents and teachers to restrict media use without demonizing it, to offer attractive alternatives such as interactive play and follow holistic methods of education that are multi-sensory, interactive, explorative and based on human contact with the teacher.
The engagement that followed showed the deep concern of the audience together with their determination to recognize and take responsibility for turning this situation around.
1 Native American hummingbird fable: One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes, feeling helpless, except for one little hummingbird. The hummingbird swooped into the stream for a few drops of water and went back to the forest to put out the fire. Then it went back to the stream again, again, again and again.All the other animals watched in disbelief: "Your wings will burn, your beak is too small, and one drop at a time you'll never put out the fire!"
The hummingbird, without skipping a beat, looked back and said, "I am doing what I can."