OECD: Students, Computers and Learning

This OECD Report is in news (see, for example, Too much technology ‘could lower school results’ at the BBC). What follows are some quotes from the Report related to mathematics.

The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. And perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Put simply, ensuring that every child attains 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 subsidising access to high-tech devices and services. (p. 3)

What the data tell us
• Resources invested in ICT for education are not linked to improved student achievement in reading, mathematics or science. […]

• Overall, the relationship between computer use at school and performance is graphically illustrated by a hill shape, which suggests that limited use of computers at school may be better than no use at all, but levels of computer use above the current OECD average are associated with significantly poorer results. (p. 146)

In 2012, 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries reported that they have a computer at home, but only 72% reported that they use a desktop, laptop or tablet computer at school. Only 42% of students in Korea and 38% of students in Shanghai-China reported that they use computers at school – and Korea and Shanghai-China were among the top performers in the  digital reading and computer-based mathematics tests in the OECD Programme for International
Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012. By contrast, in countries where it is more common for students to use the Internet at school for schoolwork, students’ performance in reading declined between 2000 and 2012, on average.
These findings, based on an analysis of PISA data, tell us that, despite the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICT) in our daily lives, these technologies have not yet been as widely adopted in formal education. But where they are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed, at best. In fact, PISA results show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. (p. 15, Executive Summary)

PISA data show that, in countries where mathematics lessons focus on formulating, and solving, real-world problems – whether in engineering, biology, finance or any problem that arises in everyday life and work – students reported that their teachers use computers to a greater extent in instruction. And among all teachers, those who are more inclined and better prepared for student-oriented teaching practices, such as group work, individualised learning, and project work, are more likely to use digital resources, according to students.

But while PISA results suggest that limited use of computers at school may be better than not using computers at all, using them more intensively than the current OECD average tends to be associated with significantly poorer student performance. ICT is linked to better student performance only in certain contexts, such as when computer software and Internet connections help to increase study time and practice. (p. 16)

The level of ICT use in mathematics lessons is related to both the content and the quality of instruction. Countries and economies where students are more exposed to real-world applications of mathematics tend to use computers more. There is also a specific association between mathematics teachers’ use of student-oriented practices, such as individualised instruction, group work and project-based learning, and their willingness and ability to integrate ICT into mathematics lessons. (p. 50)

In mathematics, the relationship between socio-economic status and performance on
the computer-based assessment reflects differences observed in performance on the
paper-based assessment, not differences in the ability to use computers; […] (p. 124).

During mathematics instruction, disadvantaged students often get more exposure to computers than advantaged students. The use of computers for mathematics teaching and learning (and for other core subjects) may first be introduced in the most challenging classrooms, either because educational disadvantage justifies the extra cost of introducing such tools, or because in these situations teachers and parents are keener to experiment these tools. In five countries and economies, however, advantaged students use ICT in mathematics classes more frequently than disadvantaged students. Denmark and Norway, where the use of computers in mathematics lessons is relatively common, are among these countries. (p. 137)

This implies that differences in performance, related to socio-economic status, in the computer-based assessment of mathematics do not stem from differences in the ability to use computers, but in differences in mathematics proficiency. (p.139)

Despite considerable investments in computers, Internet connections and software for educational use, there is little solid evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better scores in mathematics and reading. (p. 145)

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