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Abu Dhabi: It is impossible to leave technology out of the learning process for today’s so-called digital natives, so parents and educators in the UAE feel that well-planned lessons and focused guidance are key towards facilitating the effective integration of screens and online resources in education.

In addition, control mechanisms should be put in place to minimise distractions and access to inappropriate content, they added.

“We would be doing a grave disservice to our children if we did not teach them about being smart with technology. Even kindergarten children today use tablets for learning, which has become all about seeing things in action and then doing it yourself,” Anna Pagdiwalla, principal at Mayoor Private School in the capital, told Gulf News.

“The important thing, however, is to ensure that the learning is structured, which ensures that children are not distracted. Instead, using screens and online resources can be very effective at engaging children and maximising their potential, just as long as teachers invest the time to understand and master the resources themselves,” she added.

Younger students at the Indian curriculum school today use tablets in class, while older children access content through laptops.

“While screens are great for understanding the sciences, languages and math, they can also aid in physical education classes. For instance, a football coach can demonstrate a perfectly executed dribble to children or even research gameplay,” Pagdiwalla said.

Of course, this does not mean that students have constant access to online resources and screens, said Iain Colledge, principal at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.

“Students can go days without using devices in the classroom, or use them daily at other times. Moreover, technology immersion does not diminish the vital role of the teacher. To the contrary, it transforms the teacher from a director of learning to a facilitator of learning,” he said.

So primary school students are guided to use online resources through specific research sites, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica or National Geographic, which are accessed through the school library’s website. This ensures that student have less opportunity to get become distracted by content that appears in more general Google searches, Colledge explained. Older students are trained to locate relevant content using reliable online databases.

Parents, too, agree that smart devices can keep children engaged in their learning.

“My children are more enthusiastic when their studies involve online research, as the Net opens up a world of knowledge that is convenient to access. As parents however, it is our responsibility to implement age-appropriate internet controls, and also ensure that our children do not become overly dependent on smart devices in a way that makes them isolated from the external world,” said Girish Parokode, 44, a safety and security manager from India.

Rizvi Rasheed, a Sri Lankan parent-of-two, also said he restricts the time that his children can use smart devices for entertainment.

“You cannot deny that these devices make learning easier. And it is up to parents and teachers to regulate their use,” he said.

Student comments:

Sjunsei Awal, 16, Philippines

“I use an iPhone as my smart device, which I find very useful because it has a lot of convenient applications I can use, and if I need to search something for my studies, I can easily go on to the internet on my smartphone. I like to visit a variety of educational websites when I am doing research for school, as it lets me gather all the information I need fast and down to the detail.

“I like use my smartphone for entertainment usually in my free time, and try to have a balance between using it for studies and for leisure, say 60-40. A lot of young people my age mainly use it for entertainment.

“On general knowledge, I do use my smartphone to learn things I am curious about, and not necessarily because of school.”

Sobhi Siadni, 16, Lebanon

“For smart devices, I just have one iPhone, I spend around three hours a day on it, mainly chatting with friends and checking news. For study purposes, I go on WhatsApp school groups. Our pages have a lot of information, help us to communicate. For example, if we are all facing the same issue, we decide to raise it the next day with our teacher.

“Personally, I think there are a lot of good uses with a smart device to help you with your studies. It mainly comes down to how parents teach their children how to use it. I tell my parents my iPhone password, so there are no secrets. I would say I use my iPhone for entertainment 65 per cent of the time.

“Sometimes I use my iPhone to learn on my own as well.”

Dean Juan Dchuna, 18, India

“I have been using smart devices since I was 10. At the moment, I have a smartphone and a tablet device which I use for around five hours a day. I would say that 70 per cent of my time on smart devices is for education and school. I like to access many websites to get the information, and it makes it quicker and easier, in comparison to a book.

“I am very reliant on my devices because they have a lot of benefits for me, but at the same time, I see the negative aspects as well. Young people my age are now mainly staying indoors and a big part of that is down to smart devices. Maybe there needs to be more awareness on how to use your smart devices and balance your time.”

Sarah Shareef, 17, Egypt

“I just have an iPhone, which I use for around one hour a day. I use it mainly to check for assignments and emails from friends. I mainly spend time on my laptop, around eight hours a day if I am studying. Smart devices can be beneficial but it depends on how you use them. I would like to think that I am educated when it comes to using them.”