Aug. 11, 2020. Children’s Advocates and Education Experts Call on Policymakers to Limit Device Time as Kids Resume School in New Formats

Coalition of more than 100 advocates cautions against letting EdTech industry capitalize on crisis and reframe schooling

David Monahan, CCFC ([email protected])

Children’s Advocates and Education Experts Call on Policymakers to Limit Device Time as Kids Resume School in New Formats
Coalition of more than 100 advocates cautions against letting EdTech industry capitalize on crisis and reframe schooling

BOSTON, MA—August 11, 2020—As children around the US return to school in various new forms, leading experts and advocates are sounding an alarm—urging educators and policymakers to look beyond simplistic EdTech solutions and find ways to limit students’ time on computers and digital devices during the coming school year and beyond.

A Statement on EdTech and Education Policy during the Pandemic,” authored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s (CCFC) Children’s Screen Time Action Network, notes the challenges of getting school back up and running for fall in a manner safe for staff and students, but states, “whether school is in-person, remote, or some combination thereof, educators should ensure that their curricula and assignments center on offline, high-engagement components such as hands-on, project- and place-based learning.” The statement is signed by 36 advocacy groups – including the Network for Public Education, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Boston Teachers Union, and ParentsTogether, and by 70 leading experts in education, child development, and technology, including Diane Ravitch, Sherry Turkle, Tristan Harris, Roberta Golinkoff, Jenny Radesky, and Douglas Rushkoff.

“A large body of research demonstrates that excessive screen time is harmful to children,” said Faith Boninger, Ph.D. of the National Education Policy Center, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder. “Algorithm-driven, ‘personalized’ learning is not an effective way of teaching students, and it threatens their privacy. With no end in sight to the pandemic, school leaders would do well to remember that remote learning does not have to equal online learning, and to emphasize offline approaches to support children’s wellbeing and learning.”

Carol Burris, Ed.D., executive director of the Network for Public Education, said “We must resist EdTech marketers’ attempts to use the pandemic as an opportunity to further siphon scarce education dollars and marginalize the teaching profession. It’s time to invest in teachers, whose creativity and expertise is essential to ensuring that children get the project-based, outdoor, and hands-on learning they need.”

For the wellbeing of children, the coalition urges schools to:

  • Limit kids’ time on screens by using technology only when necessary for communication, collaboration, research, or facilitating creative expressions of learning;
  • Prioritize teachers and real-life relationships over EdTech;
  • Maximize offline, hands-on learning, even when school is remote;
  • Avoid hasty purchases and decisions which commit schools to EdTech beyond the pandemic;
  • Protect children’s privacy and avoid all EdTech platforms and apps that include student-directed advertising.

“The rapid adoption of online apps and platforms during remote learning this past spring put the privacy and safety of millions of schoolchildren at risk,” said Leonie Haimson, Co-chair of Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “Schools and districts have an obligation to protect children’s online privacy, and the most surefire way to do so is to limit their time on digital devices and EdTech programs. The number of breaches releasing sensitive student information mushroomed even before the COVID shutdown. Pencil and paper assignments are far safer, are generally not shared with third parties, and don’t feed into the commercial profiles of children—which too often are developed by online companies for marketing purposes.”

The advocates’ statement is part of a broader campaign by the Action Network to “deepen learning” by rejecting simplistic EdTech solutions in favor of education that engages and respects the whole child. Parents and educators are encouraged to use the statement to advocate for less EdTech use in the coming year and beyond. The Network offers free resources and conversations to promote offline learning during these challenging times. Today and Thursday, the Network is also hosting a free webinar for educators and parents entitled “Back to School During COVID: The Case for Limiting EdTech.”

“We’re at a critical juncture when it comes to the education of our children, and we cannot let pandemic profiteering set the educational agenda for our children for years to come,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “During remote learning last spring, millions of parents saw firsthand the ineffectiveness and downsides of EdTech. Now is the time for parents and teachers to come together and demand what children really need.”

Criscillia Benford, Ph.D., co-author of “Sensory Metrics of Neuromechanical Trust” and a member of the Board of Directors of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said “A low-tech approach to remote instruction, with real human engagement, helps bring equal access to learning opportunities to all children. It also happens to be vastly superior to EdTech in every single way.”

The statement, including a list of all signatories, can be found here.