Does ICT in the classroom truly improve student performance?

Based on a recently released OECD report, some early thoughts on the effect of ICT on student performance.
Earlier this week, the Organisation of Economic Development (OECD), which comprises over 34 countries worldwide, released the results of a study it had commissioned on technology in the classroom. A key findings of the report, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, included that

  • extensive use of computers in the classroom did not improve students’ performance
  • for countries that invested heavily in ICT, there was no appreciable improvement in numeracy, literacy or in science
  • wider student access to technology, in and of itself , did not narrow the skills divide among students; better results were recorded when he focus on improving mathematics and reading proficiency
  • students spending considerable time online (over six hours per day), were likely to feel isolated and not participate as fully in the classroom.

Though countries and industry experts are still weighing in on the results of the study, it might be timely for us, in the Caribbean, to also consider them. Across the region, we are at the beginning of the school year, when new technology-in-the-classroom initiatives are being launched, and those from previous years are being re-instituted. However, whilst most Caribbean countries have been investing heavily in ICT in the classroom, comprehensive studies to assess the impact of technology on students and learning may not yet have been undertaken. The paragraphs that follow are some early thoughts on the OECD findings.

There is a difference between education and training

Twenty years ago, which computers were being seen as the way of the future, there was a then growing need for individuals to be “computer literate” to improve their employment marketability. Over the years, ICT has permeates virtually all aspects of our lives, and that it likely to continue well into the future. It can thus be argued that extensive use of technology both in and outside the classroom augurs well to assist in training today’s students for the jobs of the future. However, proficiency in the use of technology would be one of many skills and competences that today’s employee – and even those of the future –  need to possess. Hence policymakers and educators alike must be mindful that there a still a focus on the wholistic development of students, their education, to ensure that they are well rounded and versatile individuals, and not just trained for a specific situation or context, which in and of itself is also evolving.

Extensive computer use can affect student behaviour and how they process information

As has been occurring worldwide, extensive access ICT has not only affected user behaviour but also how we interact with our environment and the world. For example, and somewhat anecdotally, attention spans seemingly have gotten shorter, as we are no longer prepared to wade through copious amounts of information/data, especially since search engines and social media are available to help us quickly isolate what we think we need to know. However, as a result we might not be exercising our reasoning and comprehension skills as much as we had to in the past, or as much as we should.

For students who are in the process of developing those types of skills, it could be argued that the sense of immediacy technology affords could in fact be deleterious to them gaining the required proficiency. It may also be instructive to note that although not extensively studied, there have been emerging reports that tech leaders limit their children’s exposure to technology, as they are aware of the additive nature of their devices and the applications that run on them (The Guardian).

Numeracy and literacy skills are still critical today and into the future

Finally, as much as we are all looking to the future and trying to ensure we are well positioned for what might eventuate, there are still some basic and crosscutting skills that are have been and will continue to be critical: numeracy, literacy, comprehension, logic and reasoning, to name a few.  Whilst ICT might make it easier to access information, and service providers might try simplify it to increase user-friendliness, this can inherently foster an illusion and lead to a false sense of security – about the complexity of today’s world and environment, and the skills needed to survive.

It is also instructive to emphasise, per the OECD study, that in countries that invested heavily in ICT, there was no appreciable improvement in numeracy, literacy or in science. Hence, access to ICT is a tool and should not be seen as a panacea for critical skills development needed to create leaders and innovators, and not just the worker bees of the future.


Image credit:  IntelFreePress (flickr)