Computers in education: Great machines, Wrong results

I am not the slightest bit surprised at the recent report of OECD findings that use of computers in education hasn't improved the organisation's own PISA results − and indeed that many countries with the best technology provision have mediocre performance.

Why? Because the world's most transformative machines have been used for largely the wrong purpose in most classrooms: automating pedagogy not changing the subject taught.

Countries with the most attentive teaching are also likely countries where there is least pressure to computerise pedagogy for teaching today's school subjects. They do best in PISA because they are best at helping students through those subjects.

But this misses two fundamental points. Firstly, that, particularly around STEM and maths, computers changed the real-world subject, but computers have yet to change the school subject or PISA's assessments. We're assessing largely the wrong type of maths (hand-calculating not computer-based problem-solving) and noting that computers in the classroom haven't helped improve the results. Computers need to be used for doing the calculating, not for teaching students how to do hand-calculating. Secondly, that today's computers are machines you need to get familiar with − both just in operating them today and also in being able to adapt as they improve. Those skills aren't being assessed.

I think OECD should be praised for bringing up the correlation between technology usage and results, but − as we teach in − they need to be careful to assign causality correctly. They need to move their PISA assessment quickly to a new domain of computer-based subjects to counter the problem, not suggest that the technology is redundant.