First, I thank you for the work that has been done on creating these draft guidelines for screen use in schools in Virginia. It is very exciting to see this move forward and have these implemented in the 2021-2022 school year. I appreciate the additional citations of resources used to create the guidelines and the easy-to-read infographics used to illustrate the guidelines.
I want to highlight language used in HB817, which requests the guidelines “shall at a minimum address digital device use for different age ranges and developmental levels, the amount of time spent on digital devices in the classroom, appropriate break frequency from the use of digital devices, physical positioning of digital devices in the classroom, the use of digital devices for homework, and recommended teacher training to ensure best practice implementation.”
I see that the presented guidelines only address part of this bill’s mandate. The issue of physical positioning of digital devices and break frequency is addressed with references, although with the 20-20-20 model, there is little evidence to show that only looking away for 20 seconds has any real impact on reducing eye strain. However, the very important issue of digital device use for different age ranges and developmental levels is missing. Addressing this issue is critical as the use of screens in schools would vary widely from young learners in elementary school to high school students. No one size fits all approach will work for all PK-12 students in public schools in Virginia. Further, any set time limits for students on digital devices in schools must also take into account screen time that occurs in the household to capture the cumulative effect that screen time is having on children.
Additionally, these guidelines do not provide guidance to teachers on how to incorporate devices into school in a meaningful and limited way. Children across the state are losing out on opportunities to explore problem solving and learning in a hands-on environment. Children at all grade levels should be given more opportunities in the classroom (even in a virtual setting) to incorporate outdoor learning, hands-on experiments, reading books, completing paper assignments and movement activities to keep brains and bodies active. While devices can play a complimentary role in introducing or reinforcing new concepts, they are over-relied on to the detriment of children’s health, including posture, eye health and sleep habits. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, myopia (nearsightedness) was on the rise. According to the National Eye Institute, about 41% of Americans were nearsighted, up from 25% in 1971 and children, with their developing eyes, are at greater risk of developing this irreversible condition.
Additionally, as screen use rates among children have skyrocketed this past year, inactivity and obesity among children has risen right along with it. We need to ease back the overreliance on devices for educational purposes and put the emphasis back on hands-on and experiential learning in the classroom. Let’s do better for our kids mental and physical health and set stronger limits on classroom devices.
Mary Sanders, Healthy Community Action Team Coordinator and Parent