Students who use computers frequently at school do worse

by Quentin Fottrell
from Market Watch

Even the best technology won’t replace good teaching.

Even countries that have invested heavily in computer technology for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances for reading, mathematics or science, according to a new report — “Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” — of 15-year-old students across 34 countries, including the U.S., and released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In fact, students who use computers “very frequently” at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

That’s not to say that computer science itself is not important in schools. In the U.S. many students, parents, K-12 teachers and administrators say they highly value computer science education, according to a separate nationwide survey released last month by research firm Gallup and commissioned by Google, although most do not perceive a high level of demand for computer science from students and parents. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs in computer and math areas will increase by 18% from 2012 to 2022, creating over 1.3 million jobs.
The report suggests that a combination of both face-to-face teaching and computer use have a positive impact, but the former should not be usurped by the latter. The Paris-based research body found that students who use computers moderately at school tend to be somewhat more skilled in online reading than students who rarely use computers. (Around 470,000 students participated in the study.) “A computer is no substitute for a teacher, and to the degree that it is used as such, will fail. But a good teacher can use digital resources effectively to enhance learning,” says Danielle Allen, professor of government at Harvard University, who was not involved with the OECD report.

Technology is one of the only ways to dramatically expand access to knowledge, especially in disadvantaged countries with schools that have limited access to books, said Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills. “School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning,” Schleicher said in a statement. He called on governments and departments of education in countries to “ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

Around 96% of 15-year-old students in the 34 countries that are a member of the OECD reported having a computer at home, but only 72% reported using one at school, the OECD report said. Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better results than students who use computers rarely. One suggestion: Ensure students are using the computers for the purposes they were intended for: Students who never or only rarely engage in recreational activities on computers, such as gaming and social media, have the highest performance, it added.

Despite the mixed results, schools around the world continue to invest in computers. The global expenditure on education technology within K-12 classrooms hit $14.9 billion in 2014, up 16% on the previous year, and is expected to reach $16.3 billion by 2019, according to a study released earlier this year by consulting firm Futuresource Consulting; this includes desktops, tablets and other equipment. The education sector has a vast potential for growth, it found, with 26.6 million mobile computers, including 11 million tablets, purchased in 2014. And a 2014 study found that more than half of global educational spending on mobile devices was in the U.S.

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