Don't bother buying computers for schools, says OECD report

More access to technology has ZERO impact on 15 year-olds' maths, science scores

A new report published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that “even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education” cannot point to improved reading, mathematics or science among students. Teaching basic literacy and numeracy, the report adds, “will do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than solely expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services.”

The organisation reached those conclusions after looking at results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a multi-country effort to measure student performance in 59 nations. PISA 2012 saw over 500,000 15 year-olds tested on a range of skills. Many also took an “ICT familiarity questionnaire” that required them to “… use a keyboard and mouse to navigate texts by using tools like hyperlinks, browser button or scrolling, in order to access information, as well as make a chart from data or use on-screen calculators.”

When all the counting and correlating was done, the resulting report, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection released today reached the conclusions above. Academic achievement, the report suggests, is more likely to be the result of well-known socio-economic factors rather than access to computers or the internet. The report therefore suggests that “to reduce inequalities in digital skills, countries need to improve equity in education first.”

The report also finds that schools around the world are yet to figure out how technology can make a difference in the classroom, in terms of improving overall educational outcomes and digital literacy.

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies,” says Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director for education and skills. “To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

The USA and UK skipped the digital literacy test and therefore created some statistical kinks that required ironing out, likely giving critics a useful starting point for alternative analyses.

The study and report weren't intended to discover how access to technology impacts prowess and progress in the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – so appears not to be a stick with which to beat, or defend, coding-in-schools advocates. ®

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