We audited our pupils' screen time - and were shocked

When this teacher checked his pupils' screen time, he was horrified that they were using iPads for up to 19 hours a day
5th November 2020, 2:00pm
Luke Edeson


We audited our pupils' screen time - and were shocked

Screen Time: How Much Time Are Your School's Pupils Spending On Their Ipads?

How long do you stare at your phone or tablet every day? An hour, maybe two? Or if you're being honest, is it more like three hours-plus?

Perhaps this is OK for adults. We can, in theory at least, more easily regulate our use or stop ourselves if we become aware that our eyes are feeling a bit blurry.

However, for children of any age with their own device, this can be harder.

Something we discovered to our horror after we recently audited the use of iPads among our pupils.

The screen time problem

In our school, all children from Year 3 upwards have their own iPad and a number of concerns had been raised by teachers, parents and pupils themselves regarding the use of their devices. 

These included the content children were accessing and messages they were sending, as well as the amount of time they were spending on their devices and the time of the day they were online. 

Early in the last academic year, our primary SLT, along with our Learning and Innovation team, decided it was time to act.

The decision was taken to carry out random spot-checks on the children's iPads to monitor the group messages being sent, the times the children were interacting online, the apps downloaded, the photos they had been taking, and the time spent on their screens. 

Getting everyone on board

Our eSafety and Responsible Use Policy makes it clear that the school intends to monitor the pupils' use of devices and digital communications, and parents have supported this initiative. 

We also spoke to class teachers first to ensure that we had a broad cross-section of the class - from those considered to have no issues to the more vulnerable - and began checking their iPad usage.

We also made sure that the children understood that we were not simply trying to catch them out and get them in trouble, but we wanted to understand how they were using their devices. 

The results were eye-opening.

We found primary-aged children being abusive to each other online, photos of teachers taken illicitly during lessons, messages exchanged during lesson time and even some active social media accounts. 

Many of these can be blocked by using the parental controls. However, many parents are unaware of the potential dangers of allowing their children unlimited access to the internet, or they simply do not know how to change the settings. Therefore, sharing our findings with parents was also very useful for them. 

Taking a break from the iPad

But the issue that really stood out was screen time. We gathered data on how long the pupils were using their device, the apps/websites accessed and the time of day they were active. 

Some of the figures were, frankly, shocking. 

From a daily average of 11 hours to a single-day usage of 19 hours, it was clear there was a problem. 

Unfortunately, just as we started gathering the data, Malaysia went into lockdown and distance learning took over.

This was tough, because the very nature of distance learning means children are required to spend more time on their screens compared with normal, and many have limited supervision as parents are trying to balance their own work with the learning and wellbeing of their children. 

Eyeing up the problem

However, since returning at the start of the academic year, we have decided to act with more purpose.

One way we are doing this is through reminding students repeatedly in remote school assemblies to cut down on their device usage.

And I have also decided to do more to show them the scale of the problem. I now keep a weekly record of my pupils' screen time by getting them to post a screenshot of their weekly screen time data to a Seesaw activity, so I can then collate and share the data with them.

Many are shocked to see how many hours they spend per day and vow to do something about it.

It is our task going forwards to teach them how to cut down their screen time, and encourage them to think independently about whether or not what they are using their devices for is a good use of their time. 

It is clear that just raising the issue is having an impact, though. 

A culture shift

I have noticed, for example, that barely a message can be sent between pupils during school hours without a child informing me and showing me the evidence. 

My hope is that by monitoring screen time like this and having discussions with the children about the issue, and developing strategies such as setting screen time limits, pupils will spend less time on their iPads. 

Our most recent class average is five hours and 52 minutes per day, and I am hoping this will fall over the coming weeks and months. 

As a means of comparison, other classes in the same year group will be collecting screen time data at the beginning and end of my investigation. The most recent averages for these two classes were five hours 31 minutes per day and six hours 12 minutes per day, showing that my group is quite standard for our school. 

Modelling good behaviour

In order to show the children that this is not just an issue for them, I am also sharing my own screen time with my class on a weekly basis (a daily average of two hours three minutes at the last check).

I'm hoping that going through this process alongside them will encourage the pupils to take the issue more seriously. 

And if you read this on your phone or tablet, maybe take a quick screen break.

Luke Edeson is a primary teacher at a school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has taught internationally for 13 years

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