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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Computers and kids part one

Excerpted from an article by John Clare (published in the U.K.) which summarizes a study on computers and children by the Royal Economic Society:
The less pupils use computers at school and at home, the better they do in international tests of literacy and maths, the largest study of its kind says today.

The findings raise questions over the Government's decision, announced by Gordon Brown in the Budget last week, to spend another £1.5 billion on school computers, in addition to the £2.5 billion it has already spent.

... the study, published by the Royal Economic Society, said: "Despite numerous claims by politicians and software vendors to the contrary, the evidence so far suggests that computer use in schools does not seem to contribute substantially to students' learning of basic skills such as maths or reading."

Indeed, the more pupils used computers, the worse they performed, said Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Wossmann of Munich University.
This current Royal Economic Society study reassessed data accumulated by Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) on 100,000 15-year-olds in 31 countries. The Pisa study, "to the British and many other governments' satisfaction," had concluded that more computer use = better achievement; it even suggested that kids with more than one computer at home were a year ahead of those who had none.

The new study found the Pisa conclusion "highly misleading:" it had not taken into account the relation between computer availability at home and other socioeconomic advantages, or that computer availability at school accompanies other superior resources.
Once those influences were eliminated, the relationship between use of computers and performance in maths and literacy tests was reduced to zero, showing how "careless interpretations can lead to patently false conclusions".

The more access pupils had to computers at home, the lower they scored in tests, partly because they diverted attention from homework.

Pupils tended to do worse in schools generously equipped with computers, apparently because computerised instruction replaced more effective forms of teaching.

The Government [nevertheless] says computers are the key to "personalised learning" and computers should be "embedded" in the teaching of every subject.

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At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who grew up with both computers from an early age (I was 5 when I started programming...) and a lot of books (my dad had around 2000 books), I'm not too surprised. Computer games took a lot of my time. If that had been what I had mostly used the computer for I fully expect that it would have negatively affected my skills.

However, given the home computers of the era (early to mid 80's), most people eventually learned at least some rudimentary programming as well. Programming was what made me learn English (it's my second language) from the age of 5-6, in order to spell my way through English-only computer manuals to figure out how to do stuff on the computer and understand the programming examples given.

I think one of the problems with computer use these days is that the focus is too much on using the computer as a glorified combination of encyclopedia and pop quiz rather than as a teaching tool: No good teacher would leave the students with an encyclopedia without follow up. An encyclopedia is useful for teaching students how to use sources, not to make them learn and understand the subject in question in detail.

And as for using it for problem solving - that is useless unless teachers follow it up tightly and use it to find tailor the lessons to students needs - unless there is proper follow up it's far to easy to just sit there more or less guessing and not take in any corrections given by the software being used.

I wish there was more focus on teaching students how to program instead - now there is a skill that improves problem solving abilities and a lot of other areas (personally I credit my programming experience with a significant part of my language skills, for instance - learning to understand simple artificial languages have made it much easier for me to pick up natural languages).

At 7:47 PM, Blogger David Foster said...

One problem is that educators tend to view computers as magical objects...just put some in the vicinity of the students and learning will somehow happen. Makes about as much sense as buying an assortment of machine tools and thinking you have a factory...


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