A Response to Recent News Articles on the OECD Report “Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection”

Many people have seen news articles about a new report from the OECD in recent days. A typical article and headline is this one from the BBC – Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD” This headline is followed by the opening line: “Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance, says a global study from the OECD.

Firstly, I would always advise caution when looking at news headlines. The purpose of a headline is by its nature to grab attention, not to necessarily give a balanced viewpoint. Counterpoint the BBC’s headline and opening line with the OECD’s from their own press release:

New approach needed to deliver on technology’s potential in schools
Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today’s connected world, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of digital skills.

The full report – titled “Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” can be found here.

Digging in to the BBC article and the report itself, shows very clearly that the intent of the OECD report is not to advocate that schools do not use computers with students, it is rather that educators need to get better at using computers to yield improvements.

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.” Quote from OECD press release

“….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.” Quote from BBC article

This is a sentiment that the College very much subscribes to and one that we believe we are robustly implementing. The College, and more importantly our teachers, are very reflective in their use of technology to support teaching and learning and are constantly looking for uses that show real value add over traditional approaches.

Something that the article does not do is to question the method that the report uses to measure educational success. The measure of educational success used is the OECDs PISA tests. There are reasons why we might question this as a baseline.

The first one is the assumption that the purpose of using computers in schools is to improve academic results in traditional science, english and maths tests. Certainly at UWCSEA, we have never stated that the purpose of using technology to enrich teaching and learning is about improving test results. Rather the stated aims of the original iLearn initiative were to “…seek to improve learning and develop skills through:

  • Flexible Progression
  • Critical Thinking
  • Unhindered Innovation
  • Collaborative Learning”

For a complete overview of the original initiative please see here. Please note that these outcomes are now embedded into the UWCSEA Profile.

The PISA tests simply do not measure these skills and qualities, so they are not a valid measure for many of the desired outcomes that technology use can bring to teaching and learning. Nor do they test digital skills, which are in themselves a desirable outcome and for many a requirement for future preparedness in our students.

Further to this, there are many noted academics who question the value of the PISA tests even for their own stated aims. One of the most well known and a frequent guest speaker for the Singapore Ministry of Education, is the American Professor Yong Zhao; Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon.

“PISA, the OECD’s triennial international assessment of 15 year olds in math, reading, and science, has become one of the most destructive forces in education today. It creates illusory models of excellence, romanticizes misery, glorifies educational authoritarianism, and most serious, directs the world’s attention to the past instead of pointing to the future.

For more information you can read Zhao’s blogposts here.

So in summary, the College has found that much of the press coverage of the research has been misleading. We are fully supportive of the recommendations in the original report, although we feel they have limited relevance to our situation. For a full discussion of the report it is also necessary to question the use of the PISA tests as a measure of educational success, particularly as regards the success of “21st century pedagogies.”

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