Just released - Ideagen's latest Education Risk Report

New Coding Curriculum for Queensland Students and the Dangers of Internet Addiction


Queensland is moving into the future. From next year, coding will form part of the compulsory curriculum for school students. Kate Jones, the State Education Minister, believes now is the time to begin educating Prep to Year 10 students in digital literacy. The changes will ensure that all children are exposed to coding and robotics. Educators argue that children will be equipped with the right skills for jobs in the digital age.

But Queensland is not leading the field, with England, Belgium, Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands already taking computer coding into the classroom.

Teacher Magazine recently discussed the growing phenomenon, showcasing the British model that has taken off with widespread support. According to reporter Jo Eap, England introduced computing into its primary curriculum in primary schools in September 2014. One teacher explained that the curriculum covers digital literacy, computer science including programming, ICT and e-safety.

Other Australian students are already embracing technology lessons, with children at Sydney's Darlington Public School already learning how to code computers and devices. These lessons do not, however, form part of the compulsory curriculum. High school teacher Jonathon Mascorella says that no child is too young to learn how to operate technology, saying that programs like Scratch are ideal for junior learners.

With all the excitement, a familiar debate has been reignited: how much screen time is too much for children?

Experts are split on the issue. Dr Michael Nagel, a child development expert has concerns. He insists that technology may be doing more harm than good when used in excess. "When we are talking about kids at four and five years of age, we have rafts of research that tell us what kids need more than anything is to get out and play."

According to iKeepSafe, a not-for-profit international alliance that advocates for e-safety, eight to 18-year-olds spend an average of 44.5 hours in front of screens. Many parents are becoming increasingly concerned that children are missing out on "real world experiences" like playing outdoors.

Internet addiction is a real problem – and it's on the rise. While online access provides children with a range of educational and social networking experiences, it is also a potential safety hazard. One haunting case is that of Breck Bednar, a British teen who was befriended by a charismatic psychopath online and finally murdered when the pair met. His parents were aware that he was withdrawing from the family, including missing church, but their real fears were not understood until it was too late.

Addiction to seemingly safe pursuits online is still concerning when done to excess. Sometimes children turn to this addiction to relieve or compensate for problems in their lives such as bullying or family instability.

The risks of excessive internet and gaming use

With excessive internet and gaming use, children (and adults) are at risk of:

  • obesity due to a sedentary lifestyle;
  • limited social growth and stunted social skills;
  • headaches and dizziness from focussing on a screen for too long;
  • epileptic seizures for those with the predisposition;
  • musculoskeletal issues such as lower back pain and hand strains;
  • sleep deprivation; and
  • poor cardiovascular health due to a lack of exercise.

It is important for school staff and parents to be aware of the children who may be vulnerable to addiction as they can work together to alleviate the problem.

Who is at possible risk of internet addiction?

The following types of children are most at risk of internet addiction, children:

  • who lack stable and nurturing friendships;
  • who are victims of bullying;
  • with poor social skills;
  • who have unstable relationships or connections at home or with family members;
  • with depression, hostility or ADHD; and
  • who are underperforming at school.

These children are all at risk because they may seek a sense of validation and belonging online where it is missing in their offline lives. Chat rooms can provide anonymity, attention and companionship.

As internet addiction can also lead to isolation and potential dangers for children, it is important to be aware of the warning signs in students and in your own children.

What are the warning signs of internet addiction?

The following are warning signs of internet addiction. A child who:

  • spends a lot of time on a computer, tablet or smartphone;
  • is defensive about his or her use of the internet;
  • is in denial about his or her use;
  • shows a loss of interest in other activities that he or she previously enjoyed;
  • shows signs of anxiety, depression or irritation;
  • appears tired from lack of sleep; and
  • withdraws from school activities and starts underperforming at school.

What can parents do?

Parents can respond to their child's warning signs in the following ways: 

  • it is best, where there are two parents or carers, for both to share the same message;
  • be prepared for the emotional backlash including comparisons to the rules of other less strict parents;
  • explain the reasoning behind the decision;
  • outline warning signs you have noticed;
  • have computers positioned in the home where they can be monitored - even by occasionally walking past (having them in bedrooms behind closed doors can be a recipe for disaster);
  • consider monitoring software, filters and checking browsing history to learn what sites your child is using;
  • limit computing time and online internet time to a reasonable number of hours per week (the number of hours can be negotiated with older children); and
  • be reasonable with your limits and communicate them clearly.

Strategies for teachers

What can teachers do to support students?

Teachers may or may not be able to recognise the warning signs of internet addiction but teachers can assist students through guidance and support and good communication with parents.

  • ensure there are team based computer literacy classes to assist with social skills and inclusion;
  • encourage and educate children on e-safety;
  • work with the parents- keep them informed and encourage conversation about their children (promote the home/school partnership);
  • monitor bullying and ensure that at-risk children are being supported by their peers;
  • be aware of cultural, social and religious issues that may affect student access to ITC equipment at their homes and possibly at school too:
  • promote outdoor games and activity outside of class and during sports classes;
  • ensure that there is a reasonable balance of time spent on online activities and pen and paper or oral activities- to differentiate pedagogy to account for differing student needs;
  • involve older students in developing an agreed limit for the time spent on computers; and
  • ensure that all computing and on-line activities are in accordance with the curriculum and that they have a sound educational purpose.

Other curriculum changes

The Queensland curriculum is not the only one experiencing change next year, with the Australian Curriculum to change to provide students with so-called, ‘soft skills’.

These areas of tuition include:

  • Information technology;
  • Critical and creative thinking;
  • Personal and social skills such as understanding emotions and recognising diversity;
  • Ethical skills such as learning about values; and
  • Intercultural skills such as learning about your own views and about other cultures and beliefs.

Across the board, educators are coming to realise the benefits that can be gleaned from creative and collaborative engagement. Technology is just one part of the new phase of learning we are entering.

Ultimately, the Queensland initiative will see children from Prep engaging in programming and coding skills that will put them in good stead for the jobs of the future. But with it comes a caveat, the internet, as much as a place of learning and ingenuity, is also one of danger. Both the excessive use of the web and the sometimes malicious content can derail children from living a healthy lifestyle. Teachers and parents can assist in keeping kids safe while encouraging them to adopt strong digital literacy skills.

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