Why Our Obsession With Edtech and Workforce Prep Concerns Parents and...


Why Our Obsession With Edtech and Workforce Prep Concerns Parents and Public Educators

By Tina Nazerian     Oct 17, 2017

Why Our Obsession With Edtech and Workforce Prep Concerns Parents and Public Educators

An upcoming webinar titled “The Future of Work and What It Means For K-12 Schools” has Carolyn Leith concerned about career-readiness. “They’re talking about today’s sixth graders and where they’re gonna be in the workforce.”

Leith, a member of the steering committee at Parents Across America Puget Sound, was one of three speakers on Saturday talking about challenges ahead for the gig economy, technology and student health at the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) national conference in Oakland. She joined Roxana Marachi, an associate professor at San Jose State University, and J.R. Wilson, another member of Parents Across America Puget Sound’s steering committee.

In the session, Leith called out influencers such as Tom Vander Ark, a former education director with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and one of the webinar’s presenters, saying he’s “now planning out” what her “sixth grader might be doing in the future for work.”

According to the talk, that future may be moving towards the gig economy, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as “a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.” Leith offered another way of describing it: a “series of little jobs” people in the future will have to work “enough to make ends meet.” Leith also claims the workers themselves don’t handle the money, but rather, a platform like Uber—”the middleman”—does.

That concerns Leith. She and others think the gig economy will work for some people, but not all. For instance, research done in 2016 from data and consulting firm Hearts & Wallets suggested that gig economy workers in their 40s, 50s and early 60s within a certain subgroup had high satisfaction rates working in the gig economy. But critics have argued that the gig economy model doesn’t protect workers from exploitation.

Leith is also worried about the way advocates are advertising the gig economy to young students. She feels there’s a false “positive sell” that uses language such as “you’re gonna choose your gigs, and you’re a creative of the new economy.” A more accurate description, she said, would be to say that the gig economy relies on “low paying jobs” that won’t make it possible to “buy a house.”

The concern in the room on Saturday wasn’t limited to the gig economy. Wilson, another speaker at the session, discussed student privacy issues, saying parents “should be concerned and need to become familiar with district policy related to directory information.”

Wilson told the audience that student directory information can be posted on a website, printed in school publications and released to the media or other third parties upon request. He added that directory information could be sold to data brokers and marketing companies, and once the school releases this data, it’s public information beyond the parent’s or student’s control.

Finally, Marachi, the professor at San Jose State University, also shared personal concerns over the the way students are being prepared for the future. But rather than focusing on the gig economy of tomorrow, her research focuses on technology being used today in early learning spaces. In particular, she studies school climate and violence prevention, and has found social-emotional learning to be one of the “best violence prevention” methods.

However, she shared concerns that technology might be harming students’ ability to develop their social-emotional skills and wellbeing.

“We need to help students have a sense of empathy,” Marachi said. But fostering social and emotional learning at an early age is becoming difficult, she continued, “in this day and age right now, when [students] are on smartphones all day.”

That’s also leading to other health concerns, she added, included disrupted sleep patterns.

Marachi referred to a study by JAMA Pediatrics which found bedtime “access to and use of a media device were significantly associated with the following: inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quantity” and “excessive daytime sleepiness.”

The professor also pointed to a Healthline article which references research showing that overexposure to blue light from smartphones and other electronic devices can contribute to “eyestrain and discomfort.” It also can lead to more “serious conditions later in life such as age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.”

Some groups are trying to avoid those kinds of health outcomes, Marachi said. She pointed to the state of Maryland, where advocates like Cindy Eckard of Screens and Kids pushed to pass a bill that would develop health and safety guidelines and procedures for digital devices in public schools. The house version received a hearing and was not voted on. The senate version was voted down with an “unfavorable” motion.

Editor's note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funder of EdSurge.

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