The Positive and Negative Impacts of Social Media on Education

Jul 4, 2022

It’s 2022 and whether we like it or not, South African youth love being online and active on social media. Many are almost addicted to Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp and Snapchat. A study conducted in January 2022 found that there are 41.19 million active Internet users in South Africa. It also found that 28 million Internet users in the country used social media, which is around 46% of the total population - many of which are teenagers.

As educators, our knee-jerk reaction to these statistics may be one of discomfort, as uncontrolled social media can be considered a major distraction in the classroom and can open the doors for cyberbullying and sharing of inappropriate content. However, with a little planning and guidance, social media can be a powerful teaching tool and can have a positive impact on the classroom, and on education as a whole.

Positive effects of social media:

Enhances creativity

Social media can help to enhance creative skills in children, by giving them the opportunity to learn from content creators and then execute what they have learnt in their own way. Many teenagers are engaged in creating videos for YouTube, capturing and editing photographs and blogging. In this way, social media platforms can keep children engaged, while improving their creative, social and writing skills, which can all help in achieving educational goals!

Encourages online learning

Educational videos on YouTube and TikTok, e-books, online notes and learning via video-calling are some of the major online tools which contribute to educational development. If children are au fait with the Internet from being on social media, they will more likely be able to navigate these educational platforms and make use of them successfully.

Teaches important life lessons

If planned and controlled, social media can teach important life lessons (and hacks), and can often do it in a humorous, entertaining and relatable manner. Part of the reason social media can teach these important life lessons is that it’s ‘real’ to many students. It’s authentic and functions in a way which is familiar to them and their experiences online.

Builds a community

We all know the saying, “it takes a village” and being in a ‘village’ or a community gives people a sense of belonging and safety. If used effectively, social media can build togetherness and can connect students to each other on a local and global level. It can teach kids to become valuable members of the online community and to help them build their own digital citizenship.

Negative effects of social media:

Can be a medium for bullying

There is little denying that social media provides an easy platform for students to bully or abuse their peers or even their teachers! It is imperative that we, as educators and parents, prevent online bullying by looking out for warning signs, providing teaching materials for lessons in Internet safety and by giving children a safe space to disclose any incidents of cyber bullying.

Can be a time waster

Anyone with an Instagram account knows that an innocent attempt at a quick scroll through a couple of reels can turn into a rabbit hole of hours of mindless scrolling. Perfect for procrastinators! Teachers can prevent social media from becoming a distraction or time-waster in their classrooms by setting clear rules about how and when these technologies should be used, and parents should follow these rules through to the home.

Can be a dangerous place

We all know that the Internet is full of inappropriate images and language, viruses, scammers and scams. As adults, we need to ensure that we use tools and software to help block unwanted content in the classroom and at home. We also need to always monitor what our children are viewing and listening to, and to use parental controls if necessary.

So, what’s the takeout of all of this? If the points above teach us anything, it is that social media can be an important learning tool when used appropriately, with much guidance and control. One of the best ways to ensure that your kids are safe online, is to flex your own social media muscles, joining communities of educators and parents willing to share their own ideas and experiences.

“If you are on social media and you are not learning, not laughing, not being inspired or not networking, then you are using it wrong.” - Germany Kent