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Modern Technology's Impact on Children's Intelligence Decline: Challenges and Solutions

The latest reports from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate a troubling trend: intelligence levels are declining. PISA evaluates 15-year-olds in 81 countries on their proficiency in reading, mathematics, and science, while also measuring their ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-life situations. PISA reports serve as vital indicators of societal intelligence levels and the effectiveness of educational systems.


Since 2009, there has been a noticeable decline in mathematical, reading, and scientific intelligence, with an alarming sharper decrease observed since 2018. It is reported that performance in mathematics saw a record drop of 75% from 2018 results, while reading experienced a record drop of half from the same year. In science, although no significant drop has been reported, there is still a diminishing trend.


Overall student performance is heading in the wrong direction, and Indonesia is part of this trend. Indonesia consistently scores lower than the average OECD countries, reflecting the problem in Indonesian students' performance in mathematics, reading, and science. If this issue is neglected, the decline may persist in the future. While several factors contribute to this trend, three pervasive influences of modern technology cannot be ignored.


Firstly, screens, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions, that have become an essential part of modern life. According to recent studies by Backlinko and Semrush (2024), an average teenager in Indonesia spends approximately 7 hours and 38 minutes per day on screens, which is 58 minutes more than the global average. It means that they spend half of their waking hours glued to screens. The majority of their screen time is spent on mindless scrolling or binge-watching, while only a small portion is used to access information or study. As a result, in a culture of instant gratification and passive consumption, children can experience a decline in cognitive engagement and intellectual curiosity.


The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines (2016) suggest that excessive screen time can lead to reduced attention spans and decreased cognitive and memory performance. Consequently, children may suffer from a decline in critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are crucial in mathematics and science.


Secondly, the recent rise of artificial intelligence (AI) also presents a unique challenge to the development of students' intelligence. According to McKinsey Global Institute (2018), AI has the potential to automate nearly half of all work activities, including those that require cognitive skills such as data analysis, pattern recognition, and decision-making.


While AI holds great promise for improving efficiency and productivity, it also raises questions about the necessity of human critical thinking processes, especially during the developmental stages in school-age children. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2023) mention that exposure to AI technologies in education may impact students' cognitive development and problem-solving abilities.


Lastly, the era of ease and instant access to information facilitated by modern technology, particularly web search engines, has also contributed to the decline in analytical and observational skills. This can be correlated with the low scores in PISA's reading and science assessments.


Instant access to vast amounts of information through web search engines may seem advantageous, but it also weakens essential cognitive processes such as analysis and synthesis. In this technological era, students tend to rely on instant web searches to complete their academic assignments instead of conducting their research. Instead of cultivating a deep understanding of subjects through thorough research to build analytical thinking, observation, and research abilities, students may resort to surface-level knowledge obtained from quick online searches.


These shortcuts, which result from technology, raise concerns for the future of children. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center (2023), 85% of teenagers reported that they use smartphones for homework, research, and studying. This heavy reliance on technology means that students are becoming too dependent on it, unconsciously reducing their own thinking capabilities. This is particularly worrying for young individuals whose cognitive processes are still developing. Without correct intervention, in the future, they may struggle to innovate, solve complex problems, and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.


Addressing the potential decline in intelligence requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the role of modern technology while promoting strategies to mitigate its negative effects. A holistic approach and coordinated action are needed from policymakers, parents, and schools to develop habits and cultures that promote critical thinking.


For Indonesia’s education policymakers, this change can include promoting digital literacy and responsible screen usage, fostering a culture of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, and investing in educational systems that prioritize children’s cognitive development and well-being for long-term benefits over rote memorization.


For schools and families, it is important to understand that supporting children in and beyond the classroom is crucial. Both schools and families share the responsibility of guiding children towards developing critical thinking skills. We cannot rely solely on screens and AI to educate our children, as these excessive shortcuts may hinder their critical and analytical abilities.


In conclusion, establishing strong foundations for learning and well-being for all children is imperative. It is important to recognize the dangers posed by excessive screen time and overreliance on AI, as they can erode critical thinking skills. Through collaboration among policymakers, families, and schools, we can work towards a future where intelligence flourishes rather than diminishes.

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