Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD

The BBC is reporting that a global OECD study suggests investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.

The think tank says frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results.

The OECD’s education director Andreas Schleicher says school technology had raised “too many false hopes”.

Tom Bennett, the government’s expert on pupil behaviour, said teachers had been “dazzled” by school computers.

The report from the OECD examines the impact of school technology on international test results, such as the Pisa tests taken in more than 70 countries and tests measuring digital skills.

It says that education systems which have invested heavily in information and communications technology have seen “no noticeable improvement” in Pisa test results for reading, mathematics or science.

“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,” said Mr Schleicher.

“Those students who use tablets and computers very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately.”

Annual global spending on educational technology in schools has been valued at £17.5bn, by technology analysts Gartner. In the UK, the spending on technology in schools is £900m.

The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) says schools have £619m in budgets for ICT, with £95m spent on software and digital content.

But Mr Schleicher says the “impact on student performance is mixed at best”.

The report says:

  • Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results
  • Students who use computers moderately at school, such as once or twice a week, have “somewhat better learning outcomes” than students who use computers rarely
  • The results show “no appreciable improvements” in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in information technology
  • High achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of computer use in school
  • Singapore, with only a moderate use of technology in school, is top for digital skills

“One of the most disappointing findings of the report is that the socio-economic divide between students is not narrowed by technology, perhaps even amplified,” said Mr Schleicher.

He said making sure that all children have a good grasp of reading and maths is a more effective way to close the gap than “access to hi-tech devices”…

He suggests that classroom technology can be a distraction and warns of pupils cutting and pasting “prefabricated” homework answers from the internet.

The study shows that “there is no single country in which the internet is used frequently at school by a majority of students and where students’ performance improved”…

But Mr Schleicher says the findings of the report should not be used as an “excuse” not to use technology, but as a spur to finding a more effective approach.

He gave the example of digital textbooks which can be updated as an example of how online technology could be better than traditional methods…

More at: Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD


There is a lot more in the full article including a number of useful charts but are you surprised by these findings from the OECD or do you share the concerns that too much reliance on technology, computers and the internet in class can be a distraction from learning?

Or could you argue that familiarity with technology is an essential skill in its own right, regardless of its impact on learning traditional skills?

Please give us your insights and reactions in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Actually the report says that when used appropriately, technology raises achievement slightly, but there you go

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Spoke to a school who handed iPads to all students what positive difference they had made; answer: “we’re working on that”

  3. SchoolsImprove

    andylutwyche But it also says focussing on ensuring a good grasp of reading and maths is more effective and better at closing the gap

  4. AFosterTeach

    SianGriffiths6 OECD interactive whiteboards the biggest silent scandal in my experience. At best, largely used as simple projectors.

  5. The report said, ‘The countries and cities with the lowest use of the internet in school – South Korea, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Japan – are among the top performers in international tests.’
    But Macao (China), also a top performer in PISA tests, is third in top user league table.  This rather shafts the argument about high computer deployment.
    That said, it’s how computers are used  which is important.  IT is a tool which, like other tools, has to be used effectively.

  6. According to the article, Australia (top of the computer user league) suffered a ‘significant’ decline in reading in PISA.  In 2009, Australia’s reading score was 515.  In 2012, it was 512.
    If changing score by just 3 points is ‘significant’, then the 5 point rise in UK’s reading score from 494 (2009) to 499 (2012)  is also ‘significant’.
    But we keep being told the UK has ‘stagnated’ (although that makes a change from the now discredited ‘plummeting’).
    ‘Significant’, ‘stagnating’ – these adjectives are becoming meaningless if they mean one thing in one context and something else in another.

  7. According to the article, ‘no single country in which the internet is used frequently at school by a majority of students and where students’ performance improved.’
    UK has large number of computers per pupil (although this doesn’t necessarily indicate high use).  But UK’s PISA performance DID rise in reading and maths between 2009 and 2012, albeit by a small amount (whether this is ‘significant’ or not is in dispute – see my comment below).  UK score stayed the same in Science (514) which is still above the OECD average.
    It appears there are holes appearing in this research.

  8. L_A_S

    AFosterTeach SianGriffiths6 OECD … because most teachers haven’t been trained to use them well (not their fault). There is some excellent practice out there.

  9. dutaut

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove As if iPads were in themselves educational? Without a plan for their integration? No surprises then…

  10. Tom

    Remember “Correlation does not imply causation” Is it necessarily the use of IT that affects this or are there other factors instead?

    It’s all about the way it’s used. The comment about whiteboards is completely right they are mostly used as projector screens but that’s because Teachers haven’t been trained. I train Teachers on use of Technology for a living and see so many schools buying kit with no plan on how to use it. There are plenty of schools that have seen huge improvements because of tech like the iPad but you can’t just put them into a school and suddenly expect grades to increase. Teachers need to be shown what they can do so they can use them for effective means.

Let us know what you think...