LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD—In downtown Longyearbyen a breakthrough is taking place for the Norwegian education system. After years of school children hearing only muffled “wah wah” sounds from their teachers (a fact confirmed by the famous sociological study in children’s behaviour commonly known as Peanuts), the teachers at Longyearbyen have started communicating with their students via SMS. “There has been a remarkable change in the classroom as children actually respond to us,” says Inger, a 6th grade teacher at the Long Year Primary School. “It’s about meeting them where they are at, with a language they can understand,” he says. “Smartphones and tablets are compulsory in the classroom and children caught without at least a phone in the classroom is immediately suspended,” said Principle Ann who has spearheaded the revolutionary move from talking to texting.
On visiting one of these revolutionary classrooms one is struck by the silence and lack of eye contact as students tap away at their little screens. For the most part teachers stay in the classrooms as they do group SMS teaching and some closed and open social media groups. “Facebook groups are great,” says Bjørn, a middle-school teacher who can facilitate classes via social media while meeting his new girlfriend at his favourite coffee house. “The flexibility for both teachers and students opens up possibilities that we could only dream of a few years ago,” says Kjell, another middle-school teacher who would rather bee skiing than in the classroom. “For example, in physics yesterday I was doing this extreme snowboard jump 100 KM away with a live cam feed to Facebook Live while my class was watching and commenting. We just mashed the comments, video of the jump, and some cool music and we knocked off science, media studies, music and English studies all in one hit—it’s awesome!”
Some parents are concerned about the new practice, especially since turning up to class is optional as long as the child is tethered to a smartphone or tablet. “I can’t get them out of the house, or even their bedrooms with this new system of schooling—it’s ridiculous! I don’t even know if they are actually doing school or just texting friends and watching videos,” says Jenny, a concerned mum of 3. “These are just fears of new technology,” says sociologist Dr. Orbjørn Finn of the Svalbard Institute for Technology. “The older generation do no understand the technology and they are afraid of new things. The same happened with the introduction of the motorcar, TV, and ABBA—there is an unfounded fear of the new—but all these things have become an essential part of our normal lives.”
Trials are now starting in daycare centres with the hope that screen time will reduce the chaos and stress of typical daycare centres so the staff can sit down and have a nice quiet cuppa together.