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  • Jasmine Lien

Computers for elementary students: Helpful or harmful?

A typical portal login screen for Palm Beach County students.

Palm Beach County elementary school students continue to use school-issued laptops for classwork and personal use, prompting concern from teachers and parents.

When the COVID-19 pandemic peaked in 2020, Palm Beach County increased its demand for electronic devices. The School District of Palm Beach County issued more than 60,000 laptops for K-12th grade students in March 2020 to allow for distance learning. Their goal was to achieve an equal ratio of computers to students. However, once schools returned to face-to-face instruction, those computers continued to live in the hands of children.

Not all teachers who deal with the increased use of integrated technology in their classrooms are completely enthusiastic. Stacy Caceres, a second grade teacher from Egret Lakes Community Elementary, expressed her concern over COVID-19’s push for an increase of computer-learning.

“Coming back, I think there’s a time and a place for it. It definitely should be integrated in the classroom because the kids need to know technology to be successful in the world today. But, your classroom shouldn’t be 24/7 on that computer screen,” Caceres said.

In addition to finding problems such as low-battery percentage, connection issues and accessing locked applications, Caceres found that using computers could decrease some traditional styles of learning.

She said that if technology continues to completely overtake the classroom, it will jeopardize elementary students’ essential motor skills, in-person communication skills and writing abilities.

Caceres stressed the importance of integrating traditional methods of learning in the classroom such as writing by hand and using physical books.

”It’s not something that should be considered archaic. It’s part of learning. If those things are never done, then we’re doing a disservice to those kids,” Caceres said.

Farah Augustin, a parent of three students in Palm Beach County, also agreed that there should be other methods of learning. Although computer-learning can be useful for some students, she recognized that it can be difficult for others.

“For my daughter, she is more hands-on. So, having a computer for her to learn on didn’t work for her,” Augustin said.

Additionally, Augustin said that her youngest child, who was in first grade at the time, had a difficult time learning solely online during the 2020-2021 school year. She believes the learning transition was especially hard on younger students.

Although not every public school and grade level adopted the same policy, each school integrated computer-learning into their curriculum in some way. In December 2021, teachers were instructed on how to use a learning program called GoGuardian, which allows teachers to manage their classroom, identify health risks for students and filter internet content.

Although GoGuardian Teacher was created in September 2015, it did not become available for all Palm Beach County schools until earlier this year. Because the program is still relatively new, some teachers have had to endure their own learning curves.

“I’m still clicking through stuff and trying to figure out how to use it,” Caceres said.

Despite the difficulties of adjusting to a new program, Caceres has found that some of the benefits of computer-learning can be seen through its immediacy. She can find related pictures or videos through the internet to aid her students’ learning.

Caceres also said that GoGuardian allows her to monitor her students’ online activity in real-time, which helps her make sure that her students are avoiding inappropriate content. If Caceres notices that her students are accessing certain websites or watching videos that break her rules, she is able to redirect their activity.

However, Caceres noted that she realistically cannot monitor her students’ online activity all the time, especially if those students are allowed to take their laptops home with them. Augustin echoed Caceres’ assertion.

“How is the teacher able to see what they’re on? That’s a lot of students to be checking,” Augustin said.

Unlike teachers, Augustin said that parents do not have the ability to monitor what content their children can view through their school-issued computers. Recently, she discovered through a teacher that her children’s computers are locked if they explore websites or watch content they are not allowed to.

According to GoGuardian, parents can download the GoGuardian Parent App. The app allows parents to view their children’s online activity, see their browsing history, block specific websites and schedule internet availability on managed devices.

“It’s just a learning experience that everybody’s going through right now,” Augustin said.

Both Augustin and Caceres say they realize that the increased use of computer-learning and integration of new technological programs emphasize the need for careful instruction. Teachers and parents should be properly informed of new learning programs, especially when it comes to the safety and education of elementary students.

“Technology is important when infused safely and properly, but it can’t be 100% all the time as the only way to learn,” Caceres said.

By Jasmine Lien

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