Tell It to SunStar: The smartphone epidemic

IT’S not just dengue, measles and diabetes that have grown to almost epidemic proportions in this country. It’s the addiction to electronic devices by too many children and adults that plagues much of the citizenry.

The recent brouhaha over Pisa (Program for International Students Assessment) misses the point about where the fault lies for the fact that our students are the lowest on the totem pole of educational achievement, compared to students from 79 other countries. Why has no one realized that the students’ over-use of electronic devices and underuse of books is the main problem?

The solution is simple, something that struck me while watching a Netflix series about a couple who had grown children living in different parts of town. They would sometimes welcome the kids back home for meals. There was a box by the front door in which the visitors, each time they arrived at their parents’ home, dutifully deposited their smartphones. It was a rule established by the parents so they could hold conversations among themselves with no interruptions.

It reminded me of an experience I once had at a coffee-shop here where I was enjoying a cup of chocolate, sliced mangoes and some budbud kabog. A young well-dressed couple came in, occupied the table next to me and gave the waiter their order. With that done, both settled in to stare at their smartphones. When their food arrived, their eyes never left their devices as each used one hand to spoon in their food. In the hour they spent at the eatery (which I spent reading newspapers and a book), neither said a word to each other.

I was mesmerized by the scene but not surprised. After all, Steve Job’s invention has been so ubiquitous around the globe that many folks feel naked and disconsolate if they don’t have their devices with them 24/7.

Friends call me a total dinosaur because I prefer to use my “dumbphone,” a simple Nokia keyboard to phone and text, using my laptop to access e-mail and information. I don’t need a smartphone to engage in shooting photos or videoing any trivial things that catch my fancy. There are more serious things to stimulate one’s brain.

I wondered if the silent couple at the coffeeshop was engaged or married, or if they had a fight and so refused speak to each other. Trying not to be openly curious, I got up to go to the restroom and passed by their table to peek discreetly at the screens in their hands. Each was playing a game. Obviously they found those more interesting than each other’s company.

The Pisa program organized by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) was a test to determine students’ reading ability, and knowledge of math and science. The dismal result of Filipino students, who came out on the bottom rung, should be no surprise as it’s long been obvious that reading books and engaging in critical thinking are irrelevant issues for Filipino kids, particularly if they’re given smartphones at an early age. They’d rather be entertained by playing games instead of learning new skills.

Myriad problems surround the issue of why Filipino students are such laggards. Besides the government’s low priority for education (despite frequent avowals of increased budgets), there’s the lack of classrooms and teaching material, the pitiful state of many existing schools and their equipment, the deficient training of teachers, and the health of the students. The latter points to parents who themselves lack education and hence provide improper diets for their children, very important particularly in the early formative years.

Surely one sensible solution to the problem of Filipino schoolchildren’s illiteracy and ignorance of math and science is to ration their use of smartphones. Putting boxes outside classrooms (like that Netflix couple) for the kids to deposit their devices, or asking them to keep the gadgets at home, surely is one way to help overcome illiteracy and ignorance. (Isabel Escoda)


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