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‘In a Digital Environment, the Role of Human Teachers Only Becomes More Important’

How does digital technology affect the behavior and health of schoolchildren? What opportunities does it proved teachers and school administrators? These and other issues were discussed by participants in the plenary session ‘Children’s Wellbeing in the Digital Age’ at the XX April International Scientific Conference of HSE.

Statistics Don’t Know Everything

In opening the discussion, Isak Froumin, head of HSE’s Institute of Education, noted that wellbeing is not a very common topic of inquiry in Russian research. There is no established definition of the concept.

According to OECD researchers, wellbeing is an integral characteristic that combines:

 mental and physical health


 subjective life satisfaction

 social inclusion

 environmental quality

 material wealth

accessibility of education and self-development

Statistics do not give a clear answer as to whether digital technology is detrimental to this or whether a cultural shift that is not yet very clear to us is occurring.

On the one hand, adolescents aged 14-17 spend an average of 5 hours per day in front of a screen and send about 470 messages per week.

On the other hand, 57% of adolescents make friends online, while the proportion of adolescents who use alcohol, nicotine and drugs has decreased by 50% since 2007.

(Pew Research Center and UK National Health Service)

The problem may not be with digital technology per se, but rather knowing how to use it

Leading researchers note that it is in this regard that the gap between countries and social groups is widening.

In Professor Froumin’s view, we tend to exaggerate the risks of technology. When the Laboratory for the Prevention of Asocial Behavior at HSE’s Institute of Education studied the prevalence of various forms of aggression, it found that about 30% of children face cyber-bullying. This is a big number. But the proportion of children who suffer from bullies in real life is much larger.

Digital Technology Will Make Education Accessible

Studying the problem of wellbeing is impossible without basic research on the neurophysiology and psychology of children, believes Russian Minister of Education Olga Vasilyeva.

When it comes to using digital technology when working with children, the minister sees a tool that will help a maximum number of children and adolescents receive quality education.

At the same time, ‘No one is going to replace school with online courses, and teachers with robots and tablets,’ Minister Vasilyeva says.

Vasilyeva identified the main tasks that can be accomplished with digital technology. The first is transferring educational management to a model of decision-making based on big data.

A general database will be developed in order to store information about the education system, its structure, resources and participants

This database will allow us to retrieve information from regulatory and supervisory organs with one click—and teachers won’t have to do such a large amount of paperwork like they currently do.

The second task is creating personal online accounts for students and teachers. This will allow students to track their challenges and successes and receive targeted support and guidance, and it will allow teachers to track their professional growth. A no less significant opportunity that the digital platform will provide is the ability to choose high-quality educational content, which is especially important for rural schools and children living in remote areas.

Schoolchildren Don’t Want to Give Up Their Teachers

Elena Shmeleva, head of the Foundation ‘Talent and Success’, noted that it is not just the targeted implementation of digital technology that is necessary; it is also necessary to create a new digital environment that includes both children and adults. She proposes a different type of relationship. ‘In a digital environment, the role of a real person, the teacher, only becomes more important,” she says.

The schoolchildren themselves don’t want to give up their teachers in the classroom. Lyubov Dukhanina, deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education and Science, cites data from a survey of students: half of them would like to actively use information technology in the classroom, but almost as many want to receive information from a teacher.

20% of students say that computers should not be used at all lessons

The data of Russian physicians show that ‘school-related diseases’ (conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, vision, and digestion) have been increasing in recent years. Fewer and fewer children leave school completely healthy—a mere 12% do. It is necessary to further investigate the extent to which internet usage and computer games affect this.

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