Increased Internet access at school results in lower math and reading scores

Pay attention, school boards, if you truly care about the academic wellbeing and standings of your students. It turns out computers aren't as beneficial as everyone loves to believe.

Last year, when my son came home from kindergarten, he would list excitedly all the screen time he’d enjoyed during the day – iPads for reading and math, YouTube videos for French and physical education, movies on the Smart Board to entertain the class during lunch and often in place of last recess. I was horrified, so I spoke with the school about why this was the case. There I discovered a fundamental divide in our beliefs of what’s best for young children.

I was essentially told, “There’s a huge push across our whole school board to incorporate technology into the classroom as much as possible. It’s the way of the future; we need to embrace it and teach the kids to use it from a young age.”

My counter-argument was that the school board clearly wasn’t keeping up with the research. There is plenty of evidence to show that over-exposing children to technology is damaging and relatively little that demonstrates concrete benefits. Mine, however, is an unpopular stance, perhaps because technology is naturally seductive and it makes teachers’ jobs so much easier.

Now a new study has been released by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), showing that Internet access and technology use in the classroom is only beneficial up to a point, then it starts to have a negative impact. The study, based on data collected by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, looked at the academic performances of 15-year-olds in many countries and found that, in places where it is more common to use the Internet at school for schoolwork, reading and math performance declined between 2000 and 2012.

OECD tech use study© OECD study

“While relatively abundant research has evaluated the effects of public investments in computers for education on education outcomes, more often than not these evaluations fail to identify any positive association between an increase in computer use and better test scores in mathematics and reading.”

OECD study graph© OECD study

Is it any surprise that kids have difficulty staying focused on schoolwork when there are so many other things to do online? Even I, as an adult who works online, feel the same temptation on a regular basis!

The Washington Post reports:

“There's an opportunity cost associated with these varying activities: The time kids are spending getting acquainted with computers is time they aren't spending honing their reading skills. It's no coincidence that chatting online is the activity that seems to hurt students' reading ability the most—nor is it that using email and browsing, both of which involve reading and processing longer texts, appear to be the least harmful.”

In addition to the problem of distraction, it appears that kids are failing to learn how to research, think, and respond independently. “Students are cutting and pasting answers instead of finding them,” says Andreas Schleicher, lead author of the study. Other than knowing how to use the command X and C keys, how can such an action (also known as plagiarism in some forms) benefit students in any way?

The study states: “Overall, the use of computers does not seem to confer a specific advantage in online reading. Even specific online reading skills do not benefit from high levels of computer use at school.”

Tags: Education | Kids | Technology

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