Catherine Payer’s TES article on Steiner education providing “ethos that fosters humanity” prompted me to take a quick look at the Steiner Academy Hereford (the UK’s only state-funded Steiner school). I was disappointed to find some rather misguided ideas about human-computer interaction. Their Home-School Agreement asks parents to commit to
Protecting my/our child from unsuitable and unwarranted access to some of the concerns and worries of the adult world and from unmonitored exposure and un-mediated access to media such as television and DVD, computer games, internet chat-rooms and so on. Medical research shows that screen-based activity such as TV, videos, films and computer games can have a negative effect on children (brain activity, concentration, heart-beat, emotional balance and well-being). The younger the child, the greater the effect. For the well-being of your child and their ability to access the education and programme of teaching and learning, please allow no regular screen-based activity/watching for under 8s, no more than 3 hours a week for 9 to 14s and moderate and selective use for young people aged 15 and over. Please try to make sure TVs and computers are not kept in your child’s room so that his/her bedroom is free to be a place of rest and comfort. (Further reading ‘Remote Controlled’ by Dr Aric Sigman & ‘Toxic Childhood’ by Sue Palmer, amongst others)
This is troubling for a number of reasons:
- There is not good evidence for the Academy’s recommendations. The evidence re the psychological and social effects of using computers is, at worst, mixed. There is actually some interesting evidence suggesting that using computers in various ways might bring psychological benefits – some of the discussion at Mind Hacks is a great place to start.
- Computers can be a valuable tool for many, and can be essential for those with some disabilities. Placing arbitrary limitations on their use can seriously impact on the education of some students.
Of course, this does not mean that all exposure to information technologies is safe – everything has (potential) risks. However, relying on bad science to justify educational choices is a truly sorry situation. Providing state funding to support this is even worse.