The Hidden Cost of On-Line learning
Concerns over the forced on-line development in the education of our school students has focused on many of the obvious issues such as the availability of efficient connectivity, the disparity across the socio-economic divide regarding the suitability of devices and data access in some areas. Of course, there is the issue regarding the discrepancies that will result from the inequality regarding university entry. These are real issues however, there is a more urgent and pressing dilemma that I have yet to see identified. That is the delivery of on-line lessons for the youngest of our student population such as kindergarten.
I concede that today’s generation will continue to develop in an on-line world and will progress behaviours that allow their applicable needs to be satiated in that environment but, this can only occur after they have developed a robust sense of self. Your sense of self matures in the early years of one’s life and is the child’s emerging repertoire of behaviours to satisfy physical and more significantly social needs. These occur at the interface between the child and their significant other, in the first instance their primary care giver.
In a perfect world the child tries different actions to get what they want. Things such as crying when they are hungry work and in attentive families and those care-givers will, over time provide them with alternate behaviours like ‘asking’ for what they want. We enjoy watching children learning to walk and most kids get positive reinforcement during the clumsy period prior to mastery. This reinforcement is conveyed through the emotional content of the encouragement as the infant is in the very early stages of cognitive development.
Socially, the first of these needs, to belong is tied-up in the attachment of the child first to the primary care-giver and later to the extended family. As they age the numbers of human interactions that become part of the child’s behaviour extends. From about age three the drive extends from attachment, the more intimate sense of belonging on to that of affiliation, the ability to behave in such a way as to get their needs met from their peers. The maturation of these behaviours continues throughout life but the decisive repertoire will be locked-in by about age seven. To achieve full relational development, children need to be in a physical environment where they continue to refine behaviours through trial and error. How effective their behavioural attempts are is assessed through the emotional acceptance from the target of their behaviour.
Even in a ‘perfect world’ infants need continued and expanded social interaction in a physically intimate environment, such as the classroom and playground. This is not available on-line.
Seemingly, this is a minor problem for many children however the isolation is devastating for children with social disabilities and those who live in abusive or neglectful homes! Our focus has been on helping teachers support these children who have developed behaviours that are functional in their own defective environment but clash with the character of their school. For these kids, going to school not only provides protection from the abuse it also exposes them to an alternate social setting, one that more closely reflects that of the general community.
These children who have suffered early childhood abuse and/or neglect are already disadvantaged and, unlike those who are raised in functional families who will only suffer the loss of personal interaction during the early years at school, require many more years in a predictable, consistent and caring school environment. They not only need to learn new behaviours they have to, in a sense unlearn those entrenched behaviours they acquired to survive during their early years.
If on-line learning continues for a significant length of time, the five-year-old missing out on Kindergarten will have a much more significant impact on their long-term learning than the current senior students who have already acquired their fundamental social skills.