“Mum, I don’t want to go to school today.”
This is a phrase often heard all over the world, but when a pupil crosses the line between laziness and genuine distress, parents and teachers may be dealing with a case of school refusal.
School refusal is not an illness in itself, but it may be a symptom of a greater underlying issue: if a student throws a tantrum or feels physically ill when faced with the prospect of going to school, it is a warning sign that something may be wrong. The causes may vary: it is possible that the student is experiencing bullying, but – perhaps more worryingly – the source of the refusal may not be a classmate. Extreme fear of going to school is sometimes an indicator of abusive behaviour on the teachers’ part.
The latter case is fortunately the exception rather than the rule, and teachers can and should take an active role in helping students overcome the problem. If necessary, instructors can team up with counsellors or psychologists: school refusal may be linked with anxiety or depressive disorders, which require the intervention of a mental health professional.
The effort to solve the problem, however, is an endeavour that involves everyone in the classroom—and in this day and age, technology is very much a part of the team.
For some, it may be difficult to instruct students on how to use technology when they are, in fact, more adept at it than the instructors themselves: there is a wide gap between the digital immigrants sitting at the teacher’s desk and the digital natives being lectured on technologies they have known since before they could walk and talk.
A good teacher, however, should not be daunted by the students’ perceived superiority or make the mistake of vilifying technology and pushing for an outdated style of learning: instead, the mark of an effective teacher is to keep up with the changes in our society and adapt his or her methods accordingly.
The use of technology in the classroom can be useful in overcoming school refusal: bullying is no longer limited to physical and verbal aggression on the school premises, but has expanded into cyberbullying, a persecution that follows victims wherever they go, increasing the feeling of anxiety exponentially and, in some cases, leading to suicide. A class that is educated on the dangers of sending hateful messages and posting inappropriate material for the world to see will be less inclined to go to such extremes, creating a safer space for their fellow students and decreasing the risk of school refusal.
Integrating technology in the classroom activities is also effective: if employed correctly, it can prove engaging instead of distracting and make attendance more attractive. Gamification, for instance, is the application of game principles to learning, and the use of educational software can take it to the next level, promoting an interactive learning approach that students will respond to better than to traditional lectures.
Moreover, students are familiar with using technology to access information: if teachers allow them to use the wealth of knowledge available on the Internet without assuming that this research method is necessarily lazy or inaccurate, and instead guiding them in their choice of reputable sources, they will teach them valuable critical thinking skills and lessen the false impression that school is an alien environment, difficult to navigate and governed by unfamiliar rules.
Students who are afraid of their peers’ judgement can also use technology as a means to allay their fears: for these people, the most dreaded tasks are often those that require public speaking, such as being called upon to answer a question, reading aloud, or giving a speech to the class. In the latter case, creating a slideshow enriched with text, images and videos instead of relying on speaking skills alone can relieve some of the pressure and provide an interesting experience for everyone that the teacher will have to mark based not only on the quality of the delivery, but also on the effectiveness of the material.
Teachers have not to fear technology: it may bring them closer to their students and reach even those who would rather be anywhere but in the classroom.
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