Somewhere in the late 1800s, two hypothetical children were born - Ram Das in Banaras in India and John Smith in Manchester in Britain - both cities were cloth manufacturing hubs. In a modern technology deprived setting in colonised India, Ram continues to work on his familial handlooms. John, on the other hand, was raised in a fast mechanising ecosystem.
Mass production is now the buzzword. This environment also created a demand for technical education that furthered the industrial revolution in a domino effect. Despite producing ace quality goods, Ram probably struggled his entire life, while John, in all probability, multiplied his business several folds. Perhaps John represents the story of an ancestor of a modern day textile giant.
The Learning Evolution
From printing presses to steam engines, civilizations that adopted technological revolutions have dominated the world. Education has been both influenced by these revolutions and has further catalysed these revolutions.
In the 2022 context, every piece of knowledge is available at the click of a button. Being able to consume the information and build something from it has become more important than knowing the information itself. A significant number of professions will become obsolete in the future, and many might transform beyond recognition.
Due to the ongoing fourth industrial revolution - the age of artificial intelligence and IoTs - future workforce will need to be digital natives who understand, converse and create in technology. Imagine a world where robotic arms will substitute the manual cooking process, which produces the same dish with a precise taste each time it is ordered. The chef will still be needed to innovate and devise new dishes, but will also need to know how to “talk” with the robotic arm, via a computer program. The chef’s minimum qualification might thus have an added requirement of coding. Such skills cannot be built without digital education products or without exposing learners to screens.
The intention here is not to start building a case for ignoring excessive screen time or its adverse effects. An existing body of literature confirms that excessive screen time in children is directly related to irregular and improper sleep patterns. It is also associated with negative overall well-being. Furthermore, it exposes youngsters to a multiplicity of problems like accessing unregulated content, cyberbullying, and addiction. The list can keep going on. Parents' nagging children to put aside the mobile or tablet is not without good reason. Yet, this oversimplified screen time versus no screen time hides critical nuances and drawbacks in the current range of digital education products.
The pandemic gave a massive boost to EdTechs across the globe, but it did not give EdTechs the time to put the right checks and balances in places that could actually have led to "limited but impactful" deliveries.
A perfect example is the online teaching that started happening over Zoom, Meet, and Teams. These are communication platforms for adults working in corporations, and by no stretch are they optimised for online teaching and engaging young learners. Unsurprisingly, online classes, by and large, were a painful experience with little or no learning outcomes.
Another example is exposure to “distractor” content. Most EdTechs do not have the feature to block ‘distractions’ like YouTube, chatting sites etc. The learner can thus, in the garb of studying online, access unwanted content. But we all know, creating such features in technology products is very much possible.
Encouraging Digital Literacy With Appropriate Screen Time
We have tackled adherence and operational challenges in the non-technical world too. Back in the 90s, children kept comic books hidden within their coursebooks and pretended to read academic content in front of teachers. But that did not make us dismiss books as a learning strategy altogether. A more sound approach could be to have EdTechs ensure promised outcome deliveries in a time-economical fashion and cut down on screen time. We need our learners to invest in the right kind of screen time in the right quantities.
In order to curb screen time, discarding EdTech would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Discarding EdTech and screen time altogether, as a blanket approach, might actually lead to future disempowerment.
If Ram Das were to be reborn in the current age, he would want to invest in meaningful screen time to gain futuristic skills to make sure he is not marginalised all over again.
(This article is Co-authored by: Pallav Pandey, Co-founder and CEO of Uolo, and Abhishek Bhatnagar, Vice President - Learning, Uolo)