Education minister Nikki Kaye announced last week the Government would spend $40 million on raising teachers' skills to deliver the new curriculum, which will involve all pupils from Years 1 to 10 taking part in digital technologies education.

The new content will cover two key areas – computational thinking and designing and developing digital outcomes – which are likely to include computer programming, as well as unique Maori content.

Family First NZ, which focuses on issues relating to families in the public domain, and which prides itself on being a voice advocating for strong families and safe communities is concerned about the extra screentime students will be exposed to with the new Digital Technologies-Hangarau Matihiki curriculum.

It says government agencies have not provided enough research – or guidelines around this issue.

National Director of Family First NZ Bob McCoskrie has spent several years teaching in secondary schools and tertiary institutions, as well as working as a social worker with young people in South Auckland for more than 15 years.

“Screen technology may be a beneficial aspect of modern life, but the Minister of Education needs to do some homework on the growing concerns from health and development experts about the disproportionate use of screentime in many families’ lives, particularly the young in New Zealand,” McCoskrie says.

According to McCoskrie, screentime should be treated as a personal health and wellbeing issue to be formally included in the health education curriculum and taught in the classroom from primary school.

In 2015, a report WE NEED TO TALK – Screen time in NZ, Media Use: An Emerging factor in child and adolescent health by biologist / psychologist Dr Aric Sigman, was commissioned by family group Family First NZ.

It was in response to the Ministry of Education telling Family First that “It is up to individual schools to decide the extent to which they will use digital technology to support teaching and learning”, and “The Ministry has not undertaken specific research on appropriate amounts of daily screentime for young people.”

“Also, there were admissions to Family First from the Ministry of Health they have only provided guidelines for screentime use outside of school time (a maximum of two hours per day for five to 18-year-olds) and no guidelines at all for under-fives or to the Ministry of Education, or to Early Childhood Education services,” McCoskrie adds.  

Most parents, children and teachers remain unaware of the medical and developmental risks and the position of medical bodies on discretionary screentime, while many children and adolescents in NZ continue to significantly exceed medical guidelines.

The ages at which children start viewing screens and the number of hours watched per day is increasingly linked to negative physiological changes, medical conditions and development outcomes including significant sleep disturbances, attention problems and impulsiveness, McCoskrie says.

“Children are more susceptible to developing a long-term problematic dependency on technology.

“The research is there – but it seems the Ministry of Education is turning a blind eye to it,” McCoskrie says.