Parents say a learning app backed by Mark Zuckerberg is giving kids anxiety and headaches, raising concerns about the amount of time students spend staring at screens

Getty ImagesParents in Kansas have complained about the time their kids spend staring at screens in school.

A digital education platform has reportedly caused children in Kansas to suffer from physical and mental ailments, according to a recent story in The New York Times, raising concerns about the amount of screen time among young students.

The non-profit Summit Learning, developed in part by Facebook engineers and funded by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, aims to personalise education for each student, while giving teachers more time to mentor kids. The web-based platform, which offers lesson plans and quizzes via laptop, also intends to bring high-quality education to low-income or rural communities, according to The Times.

But parents of children in Kansas, where many schools have adopted the new digital service, say otherwise. According to several parents who talked to The New York Times, the kids have complained of eye strain and seizures, as well as depression and anxiety, due to increased screen time and decreased social interaction.

“We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,” local dad Tyson Koenig told the Times about seeing children use the platform in school.

Summit claims excessive screen time is not part of the program. In a statement to Business Insider, Summit Learning said the findings in The Times do not accurately reflect how the program is implemented in schools. Jennifer Walsh, communications director at Summit, says the service is not designed for students to spend all day, “or even half of the day,” on the web platform.

In total, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has donated $US99.1 million in grants to Summit. Abby Lunardini, a spokesperson from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, also told Business Insider the program was not designed to have students stare at screens for a majority of the day. Lunardini said students who used Summit had better attendance and behaviour than before starting the program.

Still, a dozen parents in Kansas have pulled kids from schools that use the platform, according to the Times story (Koenig among them). “Everyone is more stressed now,” a 16-year-old student who said she used Summit in her classrooms told The Times. Another student told The Times she asked her dad for his hunting earmuffs to block out classmates “because work was now done largely alone.”

Research suggests spending too much time in front of a screen can impair learning among children. One study conducted by pediatricians suggested too much screen time could delay motor, communication, and problem-solving skills in young children. Another study concluded that as little as two hours of screen time per day could lower test scores.

Despite Silicon Valley touting web-based education, many tech elites raise their children gadget-free – including CEOs Bill Gates (as did the late Steve Jobs). Business Insider’s Chris Weller found many Silicon Valley engineers have “serious concerns” about tech’s impact on children’s’ social and psychological development.

The trend of rich Silicon Valley parents raising their kids tech-free as lower-income students spend more time in front of a screen suggests a wealth divide in how public schools use tech, another recent New York Times report found.

“Is this coming from a place of information – like, we know a lot about these screens,” a Facebook engineer who raises her children screen-free told The Times. “Or is it coming from a place of privilege, that we don’t need them as badly?”

Read the full article at The New York Times.

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