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VIDEO: Children, big tech, education, and society: why we need to act strategically

Overview

In this wide-ranging and thought-provoking piece, educationalist and Ladies’ College Guernsey Principal Daniele Harford-Fox talks to the ODPA about challenges faced by today’s children and young people. 

The headteacher discusses how and why the current model of education needs to be overhauled and how we can create an environment that serves children better.

"We need to fuel their imaginations, and think strategically about how to tackle the increasing influence of AI and digital devices powered by largely unregulated tech companies." 

She warns that the failure of governments to tackle these issues doesn’t just disadvantage young people in terms of educational outcomes, it puts their mental health at risk, and from a wider perspective, risks undermining democracy. Our society has created these technologies, it’s time to take a critical look at their impacts and decide on what we want the future to look like. 

Key points:

@4:00 “We need global focus on this. If we were picking an ideal strategy, we would use nuclear disarmament as an idea. We need governments to work collaboratively because it’s a global issue, so they need to be paying attention and they need to be talking to the key stakeholders and they need to be prioritizing it as a matter of urgency, so we need a global agreement on how we move forward because at the moment there is none.”

@5:45 “If Chat GPT can write a better essay than an A-Level student, which it usually can, the question is not how can we stop the student from using Chat GPT, it’s why are we investing so much of our educational time into teaching them to write essays.”

@8:40 “I think a more complicated question is around the impact that technology has on us as humans, and the impact it particularly has on children’s minds…. (@9:57) We have now created something that puts us into that state of stimulation and a constant rolling cycle. I think that is bad for us, it’s an addiction mechanism.”

@10:22 “We can see this dramatic rise in anxiety and mental health issues in all generations but particularly young people over the past 12 years and it directly correlates to the advent of the smartphone and they have now got causal evidence demonstrating that the amount of time you are spending on smart phones and particular things like social media or scrolling, things like TikTok, YouTube where you are getting that constant stimulation directly causes depression and anxiety, which from a neuro-biological perspective is not surprising because I’m getting my brain used to constant stimulation therefore when I take it away I feel anxious so I really wonder whether we have done something really unwise, unleashing this technology without any caveats.”

@18:55 “We have a problem where our children are spending too much time numb and not enough time bored.


Biography:

Ms Harford-Fox is the Principal of the Ladies’ College Guernsey, a position she has held since April 2022. She’s an alumna of a Girls’ Schools Association school and, having completed a degree in Experimental Psychology at Oxford, she became a theatre director, working with companies in the UK, Bosnia, the USA and, finally, Kenya.

In 2003, as the daughter and granddaughter of teachers, she moved into education and started the Psychology Department at Hillcrest International School in Nairobi, where she was promoted to Head of Sixth Form.

In 2009, Ms Harford-Fox returned to the UK to take up a post at Solihull School, an HMC school in the West Midlands. She was quickly appointed Director of Studies and then Deputy Head (Teaching, Learning and Innovation), and has been responsible for a number of major initiatives, from a large body of work on inclusion, gender and equality, through to the introduction of the Novus Curriculum, which is a reimagining of how to approach education in the 21st Century.

The Novus Curriculum at her previous school was shortlisted for the Independent Schools of the Year Award for Outstanding New Initiative.