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Schools wasting money on computers for kids: OECD

Getting kids up to scratch in traditional skills such as reading and math will better prepare them for the digital future than schools investing in high-tech equipment such as computers, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) claims.

The "Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection" report published Tuesday says that pupils in countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) have shown "no appreciable improvements" in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science. The OECD also said that technology in schools has done little to bridge the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

"Put simply, ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services," the OECD said.


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Joanne Rathe | The Boston Globe | Getty Images

The OECD carried out a digital skills test that required students in 31 countries to carry out tasks such as navigating around a webpage, scrolling through a browser to access information and making a chart from data.

Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Canada and Shanghai-China were the top-performing countries which the OECD said "reflects closely" their performance in the 2012 print-reading test that the organization carried out. The OECD said that "many of the skills essential for online navigation can also be taught and learned using standard, analog reading techniques".


Tech is ‘distracting’

One of the reasons that technology in the classroom leads to poorer performance among pupils is that it can be distracting, the OECD said. In addition, syllabuses have not become good enough to take make the most of the technologies available.

The OECD also expressed concerns about plagiarism, saying that if students copy and paste answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter.

"If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching," the OECD said.

Unsurprisingly, organization also found that over-use of computers can be detrimental to a child's education.

"Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics," the OECD said.

And students who spend more than six hours per day online outside of school are more likely to report that they feel lonely at school, arrive late or be truant, according to the report.


Tech-savvy teachers

Still, the organization is not discouraging the use of tech in the classroom, but wants policymakers to become more savvy about how it is used.

Access to online, up-to-date textbooks and specialized materials is one use case as well as "hands-on activities and cooperative learning".

"It is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too," the OECD concluded.