Putting More Technology In Schools May Not Make Kids Smarter: OECD Report

Technology in moderation seems to be the way to go.

You may want to think twice before you laud your local school district for investing in technological resources. As it turns out, too much technology in schools can be a bad thing, says an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report released Monday.

While school districts around the globe have invested immensely in technological resources over the past few years -- 72 percent of students in OECD countries now use computers at school -- this development isn't necessarily having a positive impact on student learning. The OECD report, which bills itself as a "first of its kind" analysis of how students' digital skills compare across the globe, suggests there is a fine line between technology being helpful and harmful. 

Students who use computers moderately at school tend to do somewhat better than students who use computers rarely and significantly better than students who use computers frequently, the report finds. 

The report looks at data from the Programme for International Student Assessment -- an exam taken by 15-year-olds in areas ranging from Shanghai to Spain to the U.S. -- to glean its results. 

When countries invest heavily in information and communication technology (ICT) in schools, "PISA results show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science," according to the report. Some of the world's top performers in math and digital reading, like Korea and Shanghai, have low rates of computer usage in school. Countries where students most often used technology for schoolwork saw an overall decline in reading scores from 2000 to 2012. 

In most countries, disadvantaged schools are just as likely, if not more likely, to have ICT resources. But increased exposure to technology in school does not mean that disadvantaged students are catching up to their affluent peers in terms of digital skills. To close these gaps, low-income students will have to be provided with better schools overall.

"Even with equal access, not all students have the knowledge and skills to be able to benefit from the resources that are available to them ... if current gaps in reading, writing and mathematics skills are not narrowed, inequalities in digital skills will persist, even if all Internet services were available free of charge," the report says. 

So, as digital skills become increasingly necessary, what should schools do to make sure they are effectively leveraging technology?

There is no easy or one-size-fits-all answer, but the report suggests that schools should invest more in training teachers on digital tools, while maintaining a healthy skepticism about computer programs they use in the classroom. 

 "What this shows is that the successful integration of technology in education is not so much a matter of choosing the right device, the right amount of time to spend with it, the best software or the right digital textbook," the report concludes. "The key elements for success are the teachers, school leaders and other decision makers who have the vision, and the ability, to make the connection between students, computers and learning."