In recent years, schools in the U.S. have added more technology to classrooms in the hopes of improving the quality of students’ education. But a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that this may be a wasted effort.
The OECD, which is based in the United States, tracked students’ use of technology at home and in the classroom. Although they found that use of technology in moderation can improve student performance, overexposure to the internet and computers can actually have the opposite effect.
Students in more than 40 countries were tracked and surveyed on their computer habits in 2012 in order to provide data for the study. The students were also subject to written and digital assessments to look at their reading and math scores.
“Despite considerable investments in computers, Internet connections and software for educational use, there is little solid evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better scores in mathematics and reading,” the report concluded.
Part of the blame, the report said, goes to outdated teaching methods.
“We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogues that make the most of technology,” the report said. Furthermore, “adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”
The report found that 70% of students averaged at least 25 minutes per day online, including access to computers at school. In all OECD countries and Russia, students averaged two hours per day online, with only 25 minutes of that time spent online at school.
Usage varied by country, however, with just half of students in Turkey and Mexico having access to a computer at home.
Research has shown that children have a 25% greater chance of learning if they are in a stimulating environment, and that can include having educational toys, games, and computer programs to use. So why does the report refute current attitudes about technology in the classroom?
According to the OECD’s education director Andreas Schleicher, school technology has raised “too many false hopes.” He explained that although it can amplify the lessons of a quality educator, it’s not substitute for poor teaching.
“If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classrooms,” Schleicher said in a BBC News report.
Regardless of location, however, Schleicher explained that, “Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.”
State Educational Technology Directors Association interim executive director Lan Neugent agrees with the report’s findings. He told the Wall Street Journal that students need to understand how to use technology in order for it to be useful.
“If you give kids a tool and don’t show them how to effectively use it, then it’s not going to make much of a difference,” Neugent said. “Why would people think that just putting a computer in front of a kid is going to change that?”
But as Bloomberg View pointed out, not all hope may be lost. Although the U.S. scored low for the integration of technology in the classroom, other countries fared far better, which could provide a model for lower-performing nations.
Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway led the way in integrating technology into school lessons.
In Norway, for instance, 67% of students had used spreadsheets in math lessons; 31% of Norwegian students had used a computer to draw graphs.
Australian students, meanwhile, spent almost an hour per day online while in school, and in Denmark, more than one-third (35%) of students had access to school-provided tablets.
The country that ranked at the top for digital skills, however, was Singapore. China and South Korea also scored high in the report despite a low-level use of computers in the classroom.