Technology in Classrooms Doesn’t Always Boost Education Results, OECD Says

Beefing up technology in the classroom doesn’t
always lead to better education for children,
according to a new study from an international
consortium presented Tuesday.
The report from the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development, or OECD, tracked
educational outcome among students based on their
use of technology at home and in the classroom.
While student performance improves when they
use technology in moderation, the group found,
overexposure to computers and the Internet causes
educational outcomes to drop.
“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,” the report said.
The report suggested that “we have not yet become
good enough at the kind of pedagogues that make
the most of technology; that adding 21st century
technologies to 20th century teaching practices will
just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

Report results are based on an assessment in 2012
that tracked students in more than 40 countries and
surveyed them on computer habits and conducted
both written and digital tests.
On average, seven out of 10 students in countries
surveyed use computers at school and students
average at least 25 minutes a day online. In some
countries, like Turkey and Mexico, about half of
the students don’t have access to a computer at
The survey found that students with more exposure
to computers do better, on average, than those with
little exposure to computers, but the OECD
cautioned against drawing conclusions based on
that result. The data could simply reflect that school
systems that invest in technology also invest in
better teachers and draw on students from a higher
socio-economic class, who tend to do better in
“Countries with low expenditures on education,
and low per-capita income, tend to have fewer
computers per student,” the report found.
While student access to computers leads to overall
better performance in the classroom, how those
computers are used and the amount of time spent
on them have a great effect on performance as well,
according to the report.
Students who use computers for schoolwork, but do
so for a slightly below-average amount of time,
performed better than average on both written and
digital reading tests, according to the survey. And
students who spend an above-average amount of
time in front of a computer at school performed the
worse than other students, including those who
might not use them at all.
In mathematics tests, the survey found that almost
any time spent on the computer led to poorer
performance on both written and digital tests.
Researchers found much the same results when
students used computers for homework. They also
found that students who used computers
excessively were more likely to feel isolated or
“Technology can amplify good teaching but it can’t
replace poor teaching,” said Andreas Schleicher,
director of the OECD’s Directorate of Education and
Skills, when presenting the data. If students are
just sitting in front of computers cutting and
pasting from Google, they could likely spend that
time more effectively elsewhere, he said.
Rote drills on the computer also had limited
effectiveness, the report said.
Mr. Schleicher didn’t suggest school systems should
suddenly slash funding to technology; in fact he
said school plays an important role in introducing
technology to children, but he did say computers
should be used more circumspectly. “Having a
thoughtful strategy is important,” he said.
“The conclusion that emerges is that schools and
education systems are, on average, not ready to
leverage the potential of technology,” the report
said in its summary. “Technology often increases
the efficiency of already-efficient processes, but it
may also make inefficient processes even more so.”
Technology can’t help students without proper
support and a good plan in the classroom, says Lan
Neugent, interim executive director of the State
Educational Technology Directors Association, a
nonprofit that focuses on technology in schools.
“If you give kids a tool and don’t show them how to
effectively use it, then it’s not going to make much
of a difference,” Mr. Neugent said. “Why would
people think that just putting a computer in front of
a kid is going to change that?”