Children need teachers to teach them - not computers, says the OECD

An over-reliance on computers will damage a child's education, not improve it.

OECD education director Andreas Schleicher says: "The socio-economic divide between students is not narrowed by technology." Image: OECD

Walk into any school in term time and you will likely see the kids hard at work on their computers, chatting online, or texting their friends but, according to the OECD, all this technology is not making our kids any smarter. In fact, it says, the evidence suggests it is having the opposite effect.

As the OECD's education director, Andreas Schleicher, points out in his report, Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection, published today, although students who use computers "moderately" at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely, "students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics".

It gets worse.

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"The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in information and communication technology (ICT) for education," said Schleicher. "And perhaps the most disappointing finding is that technology seems of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students."

Other findings of the report included:

  • Students get worse results the more frequently they use computers
  • A little use is a good thing as students who use computers once or twice a week, rather than every day, get better outcomes that those who use them rarely.
  • The countries that have invested the most in technology show "no appreciable improvements" in reading, mathematics or science, the report says.
  • High-achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of computer use in school.

According to Schleicher, one of the "most disappointing findings" of the report was that "the socio-economic divide between students is not narrowed by technology, perhaps even amplified".

Schleicher's department has undertaken a full analysis into the role that education plays in developing a population with the right skills, and has come up with results that overturn the prevailing wisdom on education.

Computers, he believes, are not much help. "Put simply," he says, "ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services."

But he also believes that "most parents and teachers" will not be surprised by the finding that students "who spend more than six hours online per weekday outside of school are particularly at risk of reporting that they feel lonely at school".

One interpretation, said Schleicher, is that "building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology sometimes distracts from this valuable human engagement".

You can find the full report here.

Further Reading:

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South Africa gets first look at cybercrime bill that comes with 25-year jail terms

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