On the place of screens at school

At the end of the line, the DD Mélissa Généreux seems taken aback as she relates an anecdote about one of her areas of concern regarding the mental health of young people: the place of screens in school.

She tells me that she once visited a school where technology was central to teaching, even though the school made it a point of pride in communications with parents.

“It’s one of those schools that says, ‘We do everything online, all our students have an iPad.’ I asked the question: “But how do you know, in class, if they are really listening, if they are not on the internet, on social networks?” A teacher replied to me: “I teach from the back of the class to make sure they are not on social networks…”

The DD Généreux, who teaches public health at the University of Sherbrooke, found this response a little short, that this approach ignored the relational and the real, in favor of the virtual.

Mélissa Généreux has nothing against technology, but she is old enough to take a critical look at the arrival, in the past, of screens in our lives: “I sold cell phones when I was in school. It was presented as the eighth wonder of the world… We were very naive, as if amazed by technology. »

Researcher Généreux has developed expertise in the mental health of young people with large-scale annual surveys of thousands of young people aged 12 to 25.

And in 2023, the DD Généreux dissected the responses of 18,000 young people who had responded to the survey by his team at the University of Sherbrooke. She had publicly expressed concern1 of a link between screen time and mental health: young people who spend more than four hours on social networks report twice as much anxiety or depression as those who spend less than two hours per day…


Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Sherbrooke Mélissa Généreux

Mélissa Généreux quotes me the exit of the Surgeon General of the United States, a year ago2, who expressed his concern about the fact that young Americans spend a large part of their lives in front of screens: “He notes that the reward circuit is overstimulated by responses from social networks, we stimulate these circuits at too young a age . Let’s not wait until we have more data: we should be more careful now. »

In an interview, Mélissa Généreux has observations on the place of screens in the lives of young and old. Yes, the pandemic has accelerated the migration of our activities to virtual; yes, the example of parents counts, they who also spend a lot of time online; yes, the ubiquity of screens among “other” young people puts overwhelming pressure on parents to let their children have access to screens…

But the public health specialist particularly wonders about the place of screens in schools. This was central to his remarks during our discussions. Mélissa Généreux cites a “synthesis of knowledge” published on February 83 last by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ) and “which has gone somewhat silent”.

This summary dissects studies on the effect of screens on learning among those under 25, in a school context. The DD Généreux sent me four findings from the synthesis conducted by the INSPQ which deserve to be cited in full:

  1. The use of individual digital devices in class for personal purposes leads the student to engage in digital multitasking, an activity which would result in a decline in learning as defined by the score obtained on a memorization and comprehension questionnaire at the time. following an academic presentation;
  2. The presence of the cell phone turned off on the desk would lead to a drop in performance on tests specifically assessing working memory, a cognitive function central to academic learning;
  3. Digital reading would lead to a reduction in text comprehension compared to paper reading;
  4. Taking digital notes would not result in any learning benefits compared to taking handwritten notes.

I read this summary from the INSPQ, which should make us want to press “pause” on the place of digital tools in the classroom. Reading it, it made me think of these testimonials from teachers that I presented to you on Saturday4, teachers from primary to college. These teachers are concerned to note that young people who have always “grown up” in the virtual world of screens are showing worrying signs of a deficit in learning abilities and relational skills in real life.

I ask the question: iPads, digital boards, everything-virtual in schools, screen time as a reward for good behavior in class…

Was this a good idea?

Is this a good idea ?

Mélissa Généreux: “In the past, it seemed like a good idea. But the data is evolving, the mental health of young people is evolving, we have to ask ourselves the question: is this still a good idea? In Scandinavian countries, we are returning to the good old paper and pencil5. It’s healthy to ask questions about screens in our families and in schools, which have a duty to set an example. »

1. Read the article from Duty “More than half of young Quebecers experience anxiety or depression”

2. Read the U.S. Surgeon General’s article “Social Media and Youth Mental Health”

3. Consult the summary from the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ)

4. Read the column “Screens: echoes of teachers”

5. Read the article from Guardian “Switching off: Sweden says back-to-basics schooling works on paper”

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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