It’s the age of the internet. And with younger generations taking to it furiously, here’s the lowdown on what’s behind the screen

Come summer holidays and I am besieged by the parents of those students who have either failed or have been asked to take a retest or performed poorly in academics. The parents’ minds are plagued by innumerable questions – is failure due to lack of intelligence? Is there a specific difficulty in learning? Is poor teaching the reason? They are unable to comprehend why their child finds it difficult to meet age-appropriate academic demands. During a comprehensive evaluation, taking cognizance of all important factors impacting their studies, I find that these are students who spend considerable time on Social Networking sites (SNS), indicating their interests and hobbies, making plans and socialising with friends.

The quick rise in popularity of SNS began in the second half of the last decade. SNS like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many more have become part of our daily life. I do believe that internet is advantageous provided used as a tool of knowledge creation and dissemination. But when it is used mainly for recreational purpose, it has a drastic effect on these youngsters. A research done by educational psychologist Kirschner and Karpinsky reveals that a significant number of internet-using teenagers have joined SNS and spend hours using social media. They have difficulty completing work. Also, lack of sleep affects their school assignments.

I work with students and I can vouch for its negative impact on their academic performance. It influences how they think and act, often in ways they may not even realize. Students these days use the internet for a majority of their daily activities. If you add up the time spent every day on exploring these sites, at the end of the academic year, hundreds of hours are devoured by SNS. They simply run out of study time. They have no idea where the time has gone.

I have noticed that many students multitask between SNS and homework. Some even have SNS on the background. Kirschner and Karpinsky claim that it may have negative effect on their academic achievements by distracting them from learning process. Multitasking affects students’ concentration. It is also known to limit creativity in the long run and it actually impairs our ability to filter out irrelevant information, thus, making us less efficient. Students are not capable of attending to several activities simultaneously and therefore, may spend more time on completing academic tasks which may result in cheating or copying assignments.

The proliferation of SNS is a matter of concern not only for parents but also for academicians. What is alarming for teachers is poor use of grammar and spelling. Students mostly use slang or abbreviations which results in poor command the language and also impacts their writing skill.

Another disturbing feature is poor communication skills. Students who spend considerable time on SNS have virtually no time to socialize in person or may lose the ability to do so. Communication skills are the key to success. I notice an increasing number of young graduates who have unsatisfactory communication skills and find it difficult to survive in the job market. Earlier it was excessive TV viewing which robbed our young people of imagination, creativity and active play and impaired their ability to process oral instructions and now it is these SNS.

We need to be realistic. The SNS are here to stay and e-learning is the norm of the day. The classroom is shifting in time and space with e-learning. For students who do most of their work online, it is easier to get distracted by the SNS. The temptation to surf the web, chat with friends, visit various other social and media sites overpower the need to complete their assignments on time. They tend to procrastinate.

So what is the solution? One possible solution to this problem may be efficient time management so that one will allocate separate times for social networking and studies. Also, sound educational ethics and proper supervision by teachers and parents may be an option worth considering.

No one can argue that the internet has been the greatest invention in the last 30 years. Used effectively, the benefits are staggering. But for the majority of young people in school and college, the use of the internet mainly constitutes social networking, the negative implications of which, particularly at that age, far outweigh its positive aspects.

(The writer is a remedial educator and you can reach her at rajfarida@gmail.com)