Dr Sarah Starkey: Technology and Education: How safe are our children?

Dr Sarah Starkey: Technology and Education: How safe are our children? Thirteenth Annual ATL Lecture – 24th May 2018,
Stormont Hotel, Belfast  NEU_WiFi_in_Schools (1)

Dr Sarah Starkey has been studying the scientific evidence for possible biological effects of wireless technologies for the past eleven years. Her background is in Neuroscience research, with a Master’s degree in Neuropharmacology from the University of Bristol (where she studied mechanisms underlying learning and memory) and a Neuroscience PhD from Queen Mary’s University in London.

She worked in Neuroscience research within the pharmaceutical industry, working on a range of projects, including serotonin and depression, circadian rhythms, the hormone melatonin and epilepsy. More recently she has published papers on wireless technologies and young people, biological effects of electromagnetic fields and has assessed and challenged official advice on the safety of wireless signals.

She is particularly interested in the possible effects that the current widespread use of wireless devices by children may be having on their health, development or wellbeing. She has submitted evidence to the Westminster Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee on the effects of wireless technologies and has supported parents and schools on this issue.

Those in attendance were treated to a thought provoking, passionate and motivational lecture which will remain in the memory for some time. For those not present, we are pleased to allow you to share in our Lecture through this edited published version. (Mark Langhammer Regional Secretary, NEU (ATL Section) Northern Ireland.)

Excerpts from the lecture:

The Department for Education in England stated (2018), “It is for individual schools to decide whether or not to implement Wi-Fi technology in order to meet their needs. Schools must take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and pupils are not exposed to risks to their health and safety by conducting a risk assessment and, if necessary, putting measures in place to minimise any known risk.”

In Northern Ireland, the Department for Education has also said (2017), “Schools need to perform risk assessments on the technologies within their school to ensure that they are fully aware of and can mitigate the potential risks involved with their use.”

So schools are responsible and they are expected to carry out a risk assessment before any technologies are introduced and used. I have written an example risk assessment for wireless technologies, which you can find on the website   https://www.wirelessriskassessment.org/

Fortunately, there are safe alternatives and alternatives and solutions. Schools can use wired computers; devices can be connected to the internet via Ethernet connections or fibre optic cables; Wi-Fi is not the only option.

This isn’t taking a step backwards, it is updating practices based on biological knowledge and evidence of harm. Pupils can be asked not to use or carry mobile phones on them whilst at school. They may not like it, but they will survive.

Most devices can have wireless functions turned off, and better still, manufacturers can make ones which only connect through wires, so that children can’t switch it back on in the classroom. As part of addressing anxiety and other mental health issues in young people, we can switch the Wi-Fi off in University student accommodation, boarding schools and for children in care. Wired internet connections can be put into their rooms. We can educate children, young people and parents about the possible serious risks.

Unfortunately, concerns and evidence rarely make it into the media. It is difficult to have an article on risks next to a full-page advert for the latest ‘smart’ phone. But concerns exist. More than 230 scientists who work in this field have called for action to protect the public. This can be found at www.emfscientist.org.

The Cyprus National Committee on Environment and Children’s Health, Cyprus and Austrian Medical Associations recommended in the Nicosia Declaration (2017) that wireless networks should be prohibited in schools. They stated, ‘All children and in particular those with existing neurological or behavioural problems as well as those with chronic diseases must be provided with wired (not wireless) learning, living and sleeping environments’. The Cyprus Government has produced videos, available on YouTube, to warn pregnant women and to ask parents and schools to reduce their exposures.France has banned Wi-Fi in nurseries and places of care for children under the age of three.

Scientists and doctors have called for 5G to be halted (www.5gappeal.eu). If 5G goes ahead, it will lead to a massive increase in wireless signals,for everyone.

The UK Chief Medical Officers have recommended that children under the age of 16 use mobile phones for essential purposes only.
Unfortunately, almost no one knows about this.Children cannot be protected when no one knows about the information.

We all have a responsibility to safeguard children and young people. Harming children is wrong, no matter how economically inconvenient or how difficult it is to make changes.

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