Why technology is bad in the classroom

Education: the digital classroom

In February 2019, the federal and state governments in Germany agreed on the digital pact for schools: five billion euros in funding from the federal budget should help to build a "modern digital educational infrastructure" across the board.

In the USA, digital learning has long been part of everyday life in schools and is already showing its downsides - above all in increased educational injustice, reports Technology Review in its new April issue (now in stores). Whenever students are tested, massive gaps open up between children from well-off families and those from poor backgrounds.

Education: hope for software and online tutorials

In the past, attempts were made to improve teacher training to compensate for this. Today, educators place their hopes primarily on software and online tutorials. Ed-tech is booming. Even kindergartens and preschools have jumped on the digital bandwagon, with technophile philanthropists like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as eager entry helpers.

Computers are cheaper than good teachers. This is what makes the already disadvantaged the ones who suffer from digital solutions: One example is the commercially operated Rocketship Public Schools. They primarily target low-income communities and rely heavily on digital technology. During the so-called learning laboratory time, a kind of assistant teacher supervises up to 90 students. A single "learning lab" makes several positions for well-trained teachers superfluous. The demand is so great and the technology is used so uncritically that in rocketship schools preschoolers spend 80 to 100 minutes a day in front of screens.

Digital in the uneducated

The scientific evidence on the effects of digital learning is thin. Worse still, most of the data shows negative effects. In 2015, for example, educational researchers published a study of millions of high school students in the 36 OECD countries.

They found that those students who used the computer extensively in school "fared much worse in most areas of study, even after adjusting for social background and demographic effects."

In a 2016 study of college students at the US Military Academy Westpoint, those who had laptops or digital devices in their classes had lower scores on the exams. Eighth graders from North Carolina who studied algebra online did not compute as well as those who were traditionally taught face-to-face.

And a data analysis published in 2019 by the Paris Reboot Foundation found that fourth graders who used tablets in all or almost all grades received an average of a whole grade worse on reading tests than children who only used paper. The foundation used data from the PISA tests, among other things.

Healthy skepticism

At least in the USA, such findings are slowly leading to rethinking, but Germany is still in the expansion mode. There is indeed a "scientific support for the expansion through educational research". However, the issue is not so much about introducing digital methods carefully, but more about ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

This tendency is particularly worrying among teachers. The German schools are noticeably cautious. So far they have only called 40 million euros from the funding pots, less than ten percent of the amount made available. "We already have the impression that the children are much less concentrated," says a representative of the teachers' union from Lower Saxony. "Digital devices in schools only cause more unrest."

You can find out more about "the digital classroom" in the new April issue of Technology Review (available in well-stocked newsagents).


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