Your guide to navigating the new digital classroom
Is parenting without a smartphone even possible anymore? There’s an app to record your newborn’s feeding and sleeping schedules, one to monitor homework, and another app to see what your toddler is up to at daycare, not to mention the dozens offering advice on how to parent in the first place. And that’s just apps – which are the relatively easy-to-use and straightforward aspects of this digitalised world we live in.
Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in all aspects of life, and your child’s classroom is no exception. There’s a name for this new generation of learners: digital natives. And we’re raising them. Which means today’s learning environment may feel completely foreign to the tech-hesitant parent.
These days, students are doing homework online, schools are implementing monitored iPad use in class, teachers keep parents abreast via educational apps, and websites and YouTube links are a central part of at-home learning. Parents are naturally left with a lot of questions regarding media and technology as they try to better understand how and what their children are learning.
“In today’s world, student life has been revolutionised on every level,” says Bill Delbrugge, headmaster of Dunecrest American School in Dubai. The school is practically free of textbooks, opting instead to use online resources to enhance learning. “With constantly evolving technological tools and an increase in digital curriculum materials, [students’] learning experiences are almost incomparable to the days without technology,” says Delbrugge. And this applies to all age groups.
“If we didn’t teach our children how to be smart with technology, then we’d be doing them a disservice, and crippling their education in the long run,” says Anna Pagdiwalla, principal of Mayoor Private School in Abu Dhabi. “Even kindergarten children today use tablets for learning, which has become all about seeing things in action and then doing it yourself,” she explains.
If learning is structured so children aren’t distracted, then screens, online resources and any other technology-based learning tool, can engage their attention and help them maximise their potential – “just as long as both teachers and parents invest the time to understand and master the resources themselves”, explains Pagdiwalla. “Isn’t it our job as parents and educators to help our kids be comfortable in such a fast-paced and ever-changing technological world?”
Overcoming tech-related anxiety
So how, then, can parents overcome tech-related anxiety and keep on top of things in this era of digitised education? Firstly, find out the best way to stay in touch with your child’s teacher. Does he or she prefer email, WhatsApp, text messaging, phone calls, or is there a school app you need to download? It may even be a combination of all of the above.
“Teachers can introduce themselves via email prior to the first day of school, offering good advice and reassuring parents,” says South African Mari Louise van Zyl, who teaches year 1 at Gems Metropole in Dubai. “It sets up a basis of communication and allows parents to know they can email the teacher anytime, especially if they can’t be there for drop-off and pickup to see the teacher face-to-face every day.”
Download the apps
Most schools these days have apps that parents need to download. There’s the D6 Communicator app, which allows you to choose your school from a list of education facilities around the world, in order to receive daily news and updates. SeeSaw is another, used by institutions such as Raha International School in Abu Dhabi and Greenfield Community School in Dubai, which students and teachers use during school hours so parents can see what their children are learning; and the iCare app, favoured by nurseries, including CreaKids in Dubai, which gives parents a glimpse of their children’s activities and day-to-day experiences.
The next step is to find out what websites or apps teachers are using in the classroom. Arabic instructors, for example, might recommend certain YouTube channels, while science teachers might recommend that parents download a specific app for home study. “Every week via email, we receive an update from our son’s Arabic teacher on what they focused on that week, and then a list of three or four YouTube links to children’s songs and videos in Arabic that he can watch at home,” says Mai Karam, an Egyptian mother of two. Her son, Yassin, is a student at Greenfield Community School in Dubai, and watching YouTube videos of Arabic children’s songs is one way to help improve his language skills and encourage him to speak in Arabic at home, his mother says.
Join the social media groups
A student’s class or grade may have a group for parents on WhatsApp or Facebook, and you need to be a part of it. It will become an invaluable source of news, and other parents can instantly answer any questions that you might have. Plus, it can help you “set up a play date with a future classmate, to ease the anxiety of entering a new class”, says mother and French teacher Sangita Vittal, who lives in Dubai and works at the Collegiate American School. “Parents can get acquainted with one another, too, ask questions and share concerns.”
If parents are apprehensive about how much time children are spending in front of a screen, then find out from teachers how much online time students will require at home to complete assignments and homework. This will help you regulate and track their use of the internet, and allow you to get screen time done and out of the way first, long before bedtime. “Please help limit the time spent in front of a screen at home, especially for younger children,” advises year 6 teacher Erin Wall. “Ideally collect all devices – phones, iPads – before bed to help their sleep cycle.”
Because even with responsible and educational tech use, says Wall, moderation is key.