Digital Distraction: A Realtime Problem for Our Digi Kids

Today I celebrate 16 years as principal of Cardijn College. Some may say that is a very long time when the next longest principalship at Cardijn was six years. In fact, many of my colleagues who began in a principalship about the same time have already moved to different schools or retired from the principalship. 16 years coupled with 13 years as a teacher brings the total to 29 years of service to the Cardijn College community. My blog post this week however is a reflection on the changes that I have seen in these last 16 years and the impact these changes have made. When I began as principal in 2005, the school had an enrolment of just over 600 students. In 2021, we have a school enrolment of over 1750 students and two new campuses. The staff numbers have grown to over 240 and our prediction for next year is that our school numbers will eclipse 1830 students and 255 staff. We have seen capital developments across all three campuses totalling $35M with another immediate commitment of $15M to planned projects in the next 24 months.

Whilst we might focus on these changes regarding the ongoing growth of Cardijn College, it is in fact the changes in education that are the subject of this post. In 2005, students had access to seven dedicated computer labs with Apple iMac G3s. In 2008, the Federal Government introduced the digital education revolution and Cardijn established a laptop scheme introducing a one-to-one program. The College had an extensive professional development program conducted by Microsoft. Over the last 10 years, the laptop scheme has grown significantly as has the school’s infrastructure and the capacity to access the school’s programs from anywhere in the world at any time. Our access to a learning management system named SEQTA has revolutionised our delivery of education and prepared us well to meet the challenges of COVID in terms of online learning. We continue to discover the power of technology and application software to enhance learning.

On the other hand, what we have discovered is that literacy and numeracy standards in Australia continue to be an ongoing challenge for a wealthy nation that has a strong economy. International testing shows that Australia ranks in the middle of all OECD nations with just small improvements in the primary years with a flatlining at Year 7. Whilst we look for a silver bullet to establish better returns for the large investment into literacy and numeracy, the answer is significantly more complex. Research is already showing that as a society we now have access to immediate information through the use of our smartphones but in dealing with all this information we have become a browsing society without the capacity to delve into information deeply. In fact, the swipe culture is now built into our psyche and our behaviours have changed. Research has clearly shown that our attention span has changed and we have become very selective in what we will access. Social media is now a dependency for many in terms of connecting with others or groups or simply sharing one’s identity and life. We have developed a new shorthand language when texting or posting which many digitally-challenged adults find amusing and confusing.

I think you will agree that the smartphone has become an addiction for many – just watch people in the shopping centre, on the bus, at the doctor’s surgery or in the lift. Why have we become addicted to these phones and what is it that these devices provide the human brain that we must be glued to it 24/7? The smartphone has many great benefits however it is now clear through research that these devices have made a significant impact on a student’s learning at school. The Australian Government is keen to ban mobile phones from the classroom due to the impact on learning and the effect on our capacity to improve our literacy and numeracy results.

Literacy and numeracy are fundamental in our ability to be prepared for the jobs we have today and into the future. For example, a vehicle service mechanic requires a higher level of literacy and numeracy today compared to 20 years ago. As our world continues to grow with the complexity of technology, our students need high levels of numeracy and literacy and this is our number one priority across all the Cardijn campuses. There is an expectation that students make progress and families embrace it.

So here are some important tips. Firstly, Cardijn College has banned mobile phones during lesson time in the middle school and will extend this to Years 10 and 11 next term. Mobile phones are a distraction to learning and we need to limit the use and begin retraining a student’s dependency on these devices. At home, it is important that adults role model the use of mobile phones and perhaps set rules around the time when access is allowed and not allowed. If you want to watch a program together with your children, I strongly recommend watching the ABC Four Corners episode titled Digi Kids which is available on YouTube.

We celebrate the many achievements at Cardijn over the last 16 years, not least the amazing academic results at Year 12, however we have a major challenge with smartphones which we must all address positively because doing nothing will seriously impact our students’ ability to be literate and numerate.

Dr Paul Rijken is principal of Cardijn College, an R-12 co-educational Catholic school in the Marist tradition, deeply inspired by the method of College patron Joseph Cardijn with a foundation built on the three pillars of his teachings; to See, Judge and Act. Educating and inspiring students in the beautiful Southern Vales region of Adelaide since 1984, Cardijn has grown to encompass three schools, each with distinct offerings. Cardijn College Galilee at Aldinga offers Reception to Year 7, expanding to include Year 8 in 2022 and Year 9 in 2023. Cardijn College at Noarlunga Downs offers Years 7-12 and is renowned for academic excellence and a vibrant extra-curricular program. Cardijn College Marcellin at Christie Downs provides a wide variety of vocational education and training opportunities for students in Years 10 – 12 and beyond, with relationships that extend well into their careers. With a current enrolment of 1750 students and 240 staff, Cardijn College is an institution which strives to be a beacon of faith in the community, with students who have enormous influence and impact on both a local and global level. Paul has been the principal at Cardijn College since 2005. He has a Ph.D. from Curtin University in Science and Mathematics Education. He is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educational Leaders.

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