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Poll: Smartphones, large classes affecting school kids' ability to concentrate

Smart devices, over-stimulation, large class sizes and personnel shortages are some of the factors inhibiting kids from concentrating in school, teachers said.

Kännykkä lapsen kädessä koulussa
Image: Jaani Lampinen / Yle

More than 80 percent of teachers surveyed in an Yle poll say that they have seen a decline in their students’ ability to concentrate during the past five years.

Many of the 400 upper and lower primary school teachers who responded to the survey attributed the loss of concentration skills to the excessive use of smart devices as well as a constant flood of stimulation.

Some respondents also felt the ability to concentrate has been affected by overly-large class sizes, a scarcity of staff or the fact that students have to change classrooms and the increasing need for independent work.

The survey was conducted for Yle by the teachers’ union OAJ and polled teachers across the country.

Calming environment helps kids focus

At the Puistopolku School in eastern Helsinki, some second-year students are learning in an environment designed to help them focus. Some of the classrooms have been designed based on a calming stress-free concept that incorporates elements such as wall-to-wall carpeting and acoustic panels that help dampen sound. This eliminates the sound of chairs scraping the floor and there is no echo. The lighting is also as close as possible to natural light.

Teacher Kirsi Lakaniemi said she occasionally plays calming music on to help provide a relaxing atmosphere. “It helps them concentrate on quiet work,” Lakaniemi added.

However she said that she encourages the kids to play during break time, when there may also be supervised activities.

Practice makes perfect

Neuropsychologist Liisa Klenberg said that children’s’ and adults’ behaviour has gradually changed. She noted that children are not getting a lot of practice in reacting quickly and also in doing many things simultaneously, as a result of environmental stimulants as well as fast-paced games. At the same time, she noted that the ability to focus has not disappeared.

“Children’s’ ability to focus has not diminished at all. But it requires practice,” she pointed out, adding that the ability to concentrate is still an important skill.

“If we can be good at rapid multitasking as well as focus long-term on things then out flexibility and possibility for action will increase,” she noted.

The specialist listed five key tactics for helping children to settle down and concentrate. They include creating a calming environment, preparing youngsters in advance for periods of focused work, outlining a clear structure for a particular assignment, ensuring that kids get enough sleep, exercise and nutrition and helping them to focus by practising on small tasks.

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