We are all looking forward to the boys and staff returning to school in the near future. There may be some who are anxious about returning due to safety concerns while others may be happy with progress made in the online environment and a return is a disruption to well-established routines. Most, however, are just looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues after such a long absence.

Whilst our management of the return may not meet everyone’s expectations, I want to reassure our community that all practical efforts have been made to ensure the safe return of both staff and boys. This will always be our highest priority. As always, the guidelines set by medical advisors, along with protocols from the ACT Government have guided our decision-making.

Upon return, boys will quickly find themselves in a period where assessments and testing will demand their immediate attention. Returning to previous routines of face-to-face teaching may prove challenging for some. In particular, the time spent on digital devices will need to be addressed given the line between recreational and educational screen time has, during pandemic times, become indistinguishable.

Concerns about recreational screen time is not a new topic. Research informs us that four in five children exceed the health recommendations of two hours of recreational screen time per day. This is on top of screen time linked to learning. I imagine, for many boys, the social restrictions from the pandemic have resulted in increased difficulty disengaging from the screen. Furthermore, the boundaries between both recreation and learning screen time are becoming less distinct and, therefore, even more difficult to manage for parents. This is made more complex given we are all surrounded by various forms of technology that continually compete for our attention.

Popular games such as Minecraft and Fortnite provide social engagement opportunities but are also opportunities for problem-solving and strategy. Interestingly, the impact of increased screen time on young people remains inconclusive. The research does demonstrate an association between excessive screen time and a range of behavioural, learning and other difficulties. That said, the results are far from conclusive on what is precisely understood as ‘excess screen time’, particularly when learning and recreation becomes blurred. Further research suggests interactive screen time is far more beneficial than passive watching.

This presents a challenging dilemma for parents to manage: how to monitor, how to categorise screen time, and how to know what is enough?

Schools too face similar challenges in balancing their use of technology in the classroom. Whilst there is no going back to days without screens in the classroom, the benefit needs to be measured for each learning activity. 

These issues are not new, and we are told 80% of Australian parents worry about their children spending too much time with screens. My advice, for what it is worth, is to ensure you have a good understanding of what your son is really doing on his screen with a particular focus on limiting passive consumption. What they are doing off screen regarding physically activity is similarly important. Our own example is imperative as conversations about healthy screen time require persuasive role modelling!

Thank you for your extraordinary support of the College over the last eighteen months. Let us pray that this is the last significant interruption to onsite learning and that our boys can re-engage with their school and their formation over the remainder of 2021.