The Elephant in the Classroom

Written by: Jonathan Kolber, ILAC Co-Founder “the elephant in the room” idiomatic phrase
  1. A major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.
  2. Something everybody knows but isn’t talking about.

Remember when we used to just talk to each other?

No texts, no pings, no pokes, no likes or emojis – just simple face to face conversations?

Today, few of us can imagine going through the day without checking our phones every few minutes. A recent survey in the USA found that most people spend an average of nine hours and 22 minutes every day in front of various screens, including smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions. We are literally connected 24/7…yet we have never felt so lonely and disengaged from one another.

Just take a look at most campuses today and you will see isolated students hunched over individual screens, eyes glazed, disconnected from the world around them. Most universities and colleges use smart boards, online teaching tools and even robots to prepare graduates for the job market, which are already a part of everyday life.  At the same time, basic social qualities such as the ability to deal with people and build healthy relationships are being lost. As technology takes over every aspect of our personal and professional lives, developing strong communication skills has never been more important.

This is the elephant in the “classroom”:  Technology is distracting students from learning. That same elephant is preventing students from gaining essential communication skills that they need in order to succeed in the world.

That’s why classrooms should be a place where students make human connections and build soft skills such as communication, empathy and leadership. Soft skills affect interpersonal interactions and enable students to succeed in the workplace and in life in general. It’s going to take a long time before machines will have emotional intelligence or cross-cultural competency. Regardless of the profession, communication and interpersonal skills will always be an essential skill.

Even as scientists are comparing cell phones to cigarette smoking addiction and tech giants are admitting to the dangers of excessive screen time, most schools still don’t want to talk about the negative effects of technology on learning. Talking about this “elephant in the classroom” forces directors and teachers to look at themselves and make decisions that are not always comfortable – such as asking students to unplug in order to connect with one another in real life.

In-person connection plays a huge role in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s not just a basic human need but also a skill that requires listening, speaking, understanding and of course, practice. The biggest rewards of connection are relationships, which provide meaning and purpose in our lives.

At ILAC, we believe that students are happiest and most successful when they are making friends from different countries and talking, listening and laughing in English.  After 20 years of teaching international students, we’ve learned first hand what makes students engage and connect with the language in order to master it. Over and over again we have seen and heard the same thing: that students come to Canada to become fully immersed in the language, culture and people.

There are many language apps and virtual platforms for learning English that students can access without ever leaving home.  When students make the choice to travel to another country it is because they want to experience the language and become a part of it – not to watch it on a screen.

This spring, ILAC is launching a Zero-Tech in the Classroom Pilot Project for students ages 16-18.  Stay tuned for updates from students and teachers on the unplugged movement and how it is changing the game in the digital trend in education.


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