No tech whizzes here

An OECD study shows computers can improve students’ performance — but only to a point.

Countries that have most heavily invested in information and communication technologies for education show no significant improvement in the performance of their students in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science, says a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection says computers in the classroom can improve children’s learning experience, but there’s a point at which the opposite is true. Students who use computers moderately at school have better learning outcomes than those who have little access to technology. However, those who use computers very frequently fare much worse, regardless of social background.

Comparing Shanghai-China’s students with those in Norway is particularly telling. Norway has one computer for every 1.7 students, and 91.9% of students use school computers — one of the highest proportions in the study. Yet that country shows a score of only 489 in mathematics. Shanghai-China’s ratio of students per school computer is not as high (2.9) and only 38.3% of students use school computers, but Shanghai-China tops the chart of 64 countries and economies assessed with a mean score of 613 in mathematics.

Among Western countries, Canada earns a score of 518 in mathematics, which is near the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranking. However, major Asian countries dominate the chart with scores of 536 for Japan, 554 for Korea and 573 for Singapore. In these three countries, as in Shanghai-China, access to computers is below average — a fact that leads the OECD to observe that “many of the skills essential for online navigation can also be taught and learned using standard, analogue reading techniques.”