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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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How Are Schools Addressing the Emergence of "New" Societal Needs?

Distracted students. Technology addiction. Social media onslaught.

Fast-paced living. Increased anxiety. Sounds like a recipe for a breakdown. Welcome to the new classroom.

Societal changes have certainly brought new challenges for teachers. And with new challenges, comes the need to re-examine current approaches to education. What are some of these new challenges? To start, children are spending more and more time on electronic devices. A 2017 report released by Common Sense Media found that children spent an average of 48 minutes on a device, up from five minutes in 2011. If you factor in all “screen media,” including television, computers, video games, etc., kids generally spend over two hours a day in front of screens.

Initial research on the impact of added screen time is very concerning.  For instance, children spending more than two hours a day on screen time had lower language and thinking scores. Those spending seven hours a day or more on electronic devices showed premature thinning of the cortex, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Another concerning trend is rising rates of anxiety reported among today’s youth. A National Survey of Children’s Health for youth, ages 6-17, reported a 20 percent increase in anxiety diagnosis between 2007-2012. Some psychologists have blamed social media for creating never-ending worry about one’s self-image and socialization, particularly when these constructs are at their most sensitive development.

These trends prompt the re-examination of what is taught in schools--what knowledge and skills are still necessary and what new ones are needed-- and whether the current curriculum and school programs are equipped to handle these new challenges. For instance:

  • Might school curriculum include not only the use of electronic devices, social media,and other technology but also education on how to use these tools to advance one’s career, social standing, business plans, financial situation, health, etc. while maintain balance and not overdoing it? In the end, these things are neutral tools—but without proper education and utilizing them intelligently, they become dangerous.
  • How can schools involve parents in reducing screen time and promoting a balance use of time outside of school that includes studying, learning, extracurricular activities, face-face socialization? Since these items are being mainly used in the home, families must get involved in the cause.
  • What curriculum/programmatic changes are necessary to assist students in dealing with anxiety? For instance, some schools have implemented yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and other stress-reduction strategies.
  • What training will be offered for teachers (including those entering the field) to deal with and perhaps utilize and overcome these newly emerging societal challenges?  New challenges require the developmental of new skills by educators.

Teachers have always faced challenges created by societal change.  However, the education system must consider how to adapt and intelligently respond to such changes, thus providingthe support teachers need to be successful. School programs, curriculum, professional development, and paradigms that might have worked in years past will likely not successfullymeet new, never-before seen challenges among children today.