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The accepted wisdom that computers are an indispensable tool of modern education is under challenge in a study conducted for Germany's Centre for Economic Studies IFO (CESifo). The study, published by the University of California Santa Cruz's Robert Fairlie and Johnathan Robertson, detected no difference between computer-owning …

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Headmaster

Re: Separation of church and state

As an educator, I have a fantasy about going to the primary school after hours and taking a cricket bat to anything with a cord or batteries; calculators are to be exterminated with extreme prejudice.

I would leave an equal value in pencils, pens, proper writing paper, and some primers that are considered past their prime. Also blackboards... can't stand those miserable unerasable whiteboards and too-faint pens.

</rant>

I feel better now. Glad their findings agree with me. Use the wetware first.

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WTF?

Re: Separation of church and state

Sorry about the subject. ???

LATE NIGHT ANDROID 2.2 600 MHz MIPS CHINESE TABLET FAIL!

(apologies to you know who)

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The accepted wisdom

from anybody who has even the least justification for an opinion - ie anybody who has been in a school.

Is that computers are mostly a complete waste of time. From the days when we had a BBC micro and a laser disk to learn about the UK in the doomsday project - to today's make a web page in Word showing why you didn't do your maths homework.

By all means put some computers in a library, along with some books, in the hope that some student discovers them and learns something (very much like the books) - but don't think that a power point replaces a teacher

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Childcatcher

Re: The accepted wisdom

I think that it is easy to overstate this case. Do computers help kids learn to read, appreciate literature, do art, learn math, etc? Generally not so much.

However, from first hand experience, computers can be a godsend to special needs children. I was fortunate enough to have computer access growing up which helped me overcome some severe difficulties with fine and gross motor coordination-- I've never had a problem with typing, but it took me years to get my handwriting to any point that would be considered legible. Computers let me focus my thought on the assignment rather than the task of handwriting.

My case is pretty minor-- there are the applications we've seen highlighted recently for children with speech difficulties to assist their communication, speech synthesis for the blind, etc.

So while I hear your point generally, I think that there are cases where considered application of technology (and instruction!) can make important differences for children.

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Re: The accepted wisdom

Computers are a tool.

Used properly, they help get the job done.

In special needs cases, they are the tool to communicate, or to move, or to enable. But they do not TEACH.

However, in the average classroom, they are no more educational than a pencil (in itself) or a piece of chalk. If you leave them in a room with some kids, they won't miraculously become Turing or Torvalds. The kids who pick them up and teach themselves on them would pick up ANYTHING and teach themselves on them. The fact that they are computers doesn't make them special or superior to any other tool in the land.

However, given that my entire career has been in schools, I will give you that a good workman in charge of that tool can work wonders. No different to what a carpenter can do with the chisel that I nearly take my face off with every time I use it. But the skill is in the workman (i.e. teacher), not the tool. Give that workman a pen and paper (or a penknife if he's a carpenter) and he can do wonders with that too. Just giving the tool to a moron doesn't get you a more educated moron.

I work with teachers. Most days I despair of teachers and teaching in general. But I have to say that the skill is in the teacher, not the tool. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Gimme a good teacher and a BBC Micro or pen and paper any day.

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Re: The accepted wisdom

Yes they do help get over the crap handwriting = thick hurdle. So much so that schools have "allegedly" been classifying lots of kids as Dyslexic/Autistic/etc so they can use word processors in exams.

But that's a long way from deciding that if you can write a story and use different fonts you are not only doing better at the story but you are learning computers as well

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IT Angle

Computers Powerpoint and Wikipedia?

It's cogent that for a lot of people exposed to ICT, all computers mean is Powerpoint or a Wikipedia lookup ...

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It's only one study...

It's only one study but, because it pretty well reflects my opinions, I tend to believe it's true. It will be interesting to see whether further studies confirm this one, and what countermeasures the tech industry adopts in order to keep the computers-for-schools gravy train rolling.

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Boffin

Interesting methodology - Re: It's only one study...

Quotes from original article

"...educational outcomes, including grades, standardized test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions"

"It's also important to note that the research restricted itself to a single variable: the possession and use of a computer. In particular, there was no effort to integrate the computers into the respective curriculums of the recipients' schools."

We spend a fortune measuring outcomes in education. I'm beginning to think that what we can measure isn't that important really. When was the last time anyone asked what class of degree you have, or what BTEC National Diploma Unit Score you obtained?

My own couple of decades of experience in teaching, and in using computers in lessons is that any technology you buy and just give out is a waste of money. It has to be designed in.

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Childcatcher

Re: It's only one study...

@Turtle, at least you admit your bias and are interested to see more information. Congrats! You have just outdone a large number of researchers.

In one counterexample, a researcher found that simply giving kids access to information through the application of technology really improved their education. I have read others with mixed results (e.g. the One Laptop Per Child initiative). From what I have been able to gather, a good result is not based on tech alone, but fits into the existing environment. The success or failure depends on how good that fit is. There is no one size fits all solution.

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Holmes

Re: It's not only one study... it's old stuff.

Anybody at the Reg thinking or writing about "this accepted wisdom" should read the Reg.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03/21/how_dumb_kids/

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It's sad

It's sad that educational administrators are oblivious to the reality that PCs are just another tool often used as a toy and thus never achieving the desired educational value. Many school systems lack the resources to hire quality teachers or pay reasonable salaries yet they find money to buy PCs. In the end we still have a large percentage of students who graduate without much of a clue in the very basics of education.

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FAIL

Re: It's sad

"Many school systems lack the resources to hire quality teachers "

quality teachers - warning ! entering area of high cognitive dissonance. Proceed with caution. The teachers are the problem - simply put , very few of them can teach. Admittedly, teaching is not easy , but then that is why they are paid so well, work such short hours and have such long holidays.

My personal favourite is the "pupil-free day" sort of like army intelligence , only the results are sadder.

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Boffin

Re: It's sad

@sam bo

Would you like me to organise a work shadow in a local school or college for you? UK based. You will need a full CRB and two referees who have known you professionally for at least 5 years. You will need a degree in a National Curriculum subject (at least 50% of the degree). I'd advise you to look at the professional skills tests.

http://www.education.gov.uk/get-into-teaching/apply-for-teacher-training/skills-tests

UK: we have just under 450000 teachers in schools in England and Wales. The government work on 9% churn each year. So we have to find just over 40 000 new entrants each year.

That is why you are seeing a lot of advertising at present... and it is part of the reason for the Academies push. Less stringent qualifications for teachers in Academies...

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Re: It's sad

"Many school systems lack the resources to hire quality teachers or pay reasonable salaries yet they find money to buy PCs."

Thats a Catch-22. If former-teachers now-administrators were of proper caliber in the first place they wouldn't misappropriate funds in attempt to buy machines to make up for teachers' shortcomings.

One can not pay teachers more to make them better teachers. One has to have the ability to hire and fire with ease so as to build a team capable of achieving the goal. In private industry higher pay comes with less job security. I'll pay you more on the chance you are worth more. But if you are not, you are gone.

In college I was hired as a sweat shop "educational" programmer. Paid $0.05 over minimum wage, every week we were given an outline of a "program" designed by PhD educators. We turned their drills into executable apps. Mindless drills. Slide shows. Very little interaction. Most complex was an "energy spreadsheet", one column of household energy consumers which one could adjust usage to see the effect on monthly energy bill.

The most useful educational computer tools to me have been word processor, C compiler, Unix, and spreadsheet. Word processor makes edits possible and practical that I simply would not undertake by hand. Much the same way as I lay out PCB's today I can push and shove things around to try which I would not have dared with tape.

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Thumb Up

I think it would be more interesting to see what would happen if things like KhanAcadamy was promoted for home use and see if the kids are still pretty much equal.

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Boffin

Khan academy used right

"I think it would be more interesting to see what would happen if things like KhanAcadamy was promoted for home use and see if the kids are still pretty much equal."

I use selected Khan Academy videos for the higher level maths students (UK). They tend to stress drill/practice and easier more direct problems. They are very useful for that.

Tim Gowers has suggestions for harder problem solving stuff on his blog.

http://gowers.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/how-should-mathematics-be-taught-to-non-mathematicians/

Gowers also has a hilarous account of a conversation with an A level Maths student

http://gowers.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/what-maths-a-level-doesnt-necessarily-give-you/

Which might be what happens if you rely too much on the 'web based snippets of learning' approach. No coherence.

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The key to teaching is the teacher

The most important thing, IMHO, in teaching is the teacher. Someone who understands their subject, can explain the subject clearly, impart passion into their teaching, inspire the pupil to learn on their own, and have the patience of a saint in dealing with pupils who have various levels of interest in the subject.

I don't think any computer or software could be said to be able to do any of those things.

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Re: The key to teaching is the teacher

@ A Non e-mouse

Certainly true that the teacher makes all the difference.

But the system so sucks that it's near impossible for them to function. Kids are inherently curious, but want to have fun and school is almost always the opposite. Pleasure of learning is replaced by fear of punishment. Compounded by UK private schools' obsession with sport played outside in a lousy climate -- another reason for dread.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The key to teaching is the teacher

There's nothing wrong with our climate that spending less time in temperature controlled buildings doesn't fix.

Although, given the last few summers, cricket suffers.

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Re: The key to teaching is the teacher

One thing that the government here in the Netherlands might try (maybe the same elsewhere), is to let teachers teach, not administrate. I gave a few lessons of computer science at schools nearby, to show kids that CS is certainly not learning to work in MS-Office. I was appalled at how much time teachers have to waste on administration during each lesson. And then there are the endless assessments and test that are foisted upon school children here from the age of 4 upwards. Endless assessments to measure outcomes. As one teacher pointedly stated: "A pig doesn't get fatter by weighing it more often". This tendency to measure everything to death has even reached preschool creches we have. I have heard people agonize about the fact that a 3 or 4 year old kid only recognized 4 letters whereas they should know 5 at that age. As if that difference is at all meaningful!.

When teachers are assessed by the teaching outcomes of their pupils, they will train them to perform well at the test, which is not the same as giving them understanding of the subject matter (let alone stimulating them).

</rant>

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Childcatcher

Re: The key to teaching is the teacher

'As one teacher pointedly stated: "A pig doesn't get fatter by weighing it more often"'

Excellent. I've just had a vision of my Wednesday morning class turning into piglets...

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Bronze badge

Re: tools for the job - e.g. Rasberry pi

Not true.

And to do so requires a decent teacher anyway. The skill is in the teacher, not the tool.

(School IT Manager for my entire career and sworn enemy of 80% of teachers I've worked with).

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Re: tools for the job - e.g. Rasberry pi

I upvoted you - now I feel slightly dirty!

I do sort of partially agree with the point about using RasPi to develop basic computing skills. However, the real issue is nothing to do with what computer they use, what OS is on it etc.

The biggest problem is that the politicians have been playing political football with education for the last 50 - 60 years. They need to be seen to be doing something (despite the fact that most of them haven't a clue) so they introduce new policies almost as often as they change their socks. However, in most cases, they don't provide real detail for these, just a fuzzy "guideline"; and then various other organisations throw in their two penn'orth (the teaching unions, LEA, etc. etc). Instead of providing clear direction, it seems to be a case of "I don't know what I want, but I'll know it when I see it"; and then the PTB criticise for not achieving a standard that is often subjective for the most part.

Add to that, there seems to be an assumption that teachers can teach anything, even when they themselves know little about the topic. This might be appropriate at the lower levels where they are really only providing a basic level of knowledeg transfer, but once the children start to move up to the more senior levels, they deserve to be taught by people with a passion for the topic as well as a more detailed level of knowledge.

But the biggest single issue has to be the children themselves. There are those that really want to learn (I saw this when I was governor of a junior school) and will soak up knowledge like a sponge. At some point, for some reason they get turned off learning; possibly because it is no longer "cool", they have issues at home, low expectations, poor support, innappropriate teaching methods, no motivation, take your pick.

Learning needs to be seen as something that continues throughout one's lifetime, not just something that happens between a couple of arbitrary dates.

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Unhappy

Re: tools for the job - e.g. Rasberry pi

"The biggest problem is that the politicians have been playing political football with education for the last 50 - 60 years. "

I think you'll find in the UK that's more like the last century.

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Coat

As a testimonial ... and a touch of perspective.

I didn't have computers in K-12, not at school anyway.

But I helped build this thing we now call "The Internet" when I got to University.

IMO, K-12 is for basics. Reading, writing, arithmetic, basic interpersonal socialization, raising interest in the rest of the world, immune system strengthening, and a small measure of how time works. Not much else.

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Re: As a testimonial ... and a touch of perspective.

"... a small measure of how time works."

That's postgraduate-level physics!

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Re: As a testimonial ... and a touch of perspective.

They have to teach "it takes this long to do your homework, so inter curricular sports might not be a good idea this quarter/semester" as a post-grad physics course?

If so, we're all well and truly fucked as a species ...

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Re: As a testimonial ... and a touch of perspective.

Computers in school aren't a bad thing. Given how much people use them everyday, getting kids up-to-speed on the more boring parts of them quickly is something worthwhile. But we're talking teaching a life-skill, not an academic necessity (still haven't found a way to take down maths notation accurately in a nice way on a computer, and I'm 13 years past a maths degree).

"Computing" (as opposed to "Computer Science" which should be optional, come later, and be much more theoretical) should be taught the same as home-economics was when I was a kid. A lesson or so a week, a basic grounding in "office skills" and then that's it. Just so that they can't complain that they don't know how to get on Google because daddy never touched a computer in his life.

Above and beyond that, I have to agree that computers in schools is wrong. My job? I'm an IT Manager for schools. I try damn hard to make sure that at least we aren't throwing money away unnecessarily on tat and junk that we don't need, and instead have more money for pens, paper and decent teachers. Given the current state of many UK schools, I think that's needed at the moment. But I still get odd looks when I express the above opinion to the teachers I work with, more because they expect me to be the opposite than they don't agree.

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Boffin

Re: As a testimonial ... and a touch of perspective.

"They have to teach "it takes this long to do your homework, so inter curricular sports might not be a good idea this quarter/semester" as a post-grad physics course?"

@jake

That is dedciding goals and allocating time appropriately. Part of getting children to think about thinks in the future beyond the next 10 minutes. I fully accept that as part of the teaching role. Some parents get the idea as well. I wish they all did.

'How time works' is indeed a rather deeper issue. Google 'Ergodic hypothesis' and 'Arrow of time'.

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Training programmes are a lot less 'sexy' than buying lots of hardware and lobbing it over the wall. Plus if you have an ideological problem with public sector schools why would you want them to succeed?

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Anonymous Coward

Before we give the bean counters another excuse to slash school budgets, I would like to know the net effect on average salary for those same children, post-graduation. Average test scores are not the end of education, they are a diagnostic tool for measuring progress towards the goal of preparing students for adult life.

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Computers in schools?

Useless,

From learning about Winchester drives when MFM and RLL where actually the drive controllers being used in industry to DB4 when SQL was taking over.

The education system cant teach the children anything that's current, thus all they can do is teach HOW TO USE computers and the basic theory behind them. (actually, theory is pretty useful as nothing really changes once you understand the ground rules)

You don't need a computer for this, you need an interesting/ed teacher and a class of attentive kids.

On top of that, use of devices that do the basics for you turns your brain to mush. Basic mental arithmetic is something that has noticeably different between my brain now and the one I had at school. Where I used to be able to work out sine wave coefficients in my head, after 20 years of using a calculator my ability to do basic multiplication tables is noticeably poor.

Anyway, all of the above means nothing. Education is no longer about giving a child the mental tools and the store of knowledge to help them learn, it is about ensuring that all children "pass"

In the UK this is achieved by making the pass rates so high that all should get a B or higher, pass rate inflation or something.

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FAIL

Only computers?

Obviously they were too scared to provide computers AND free internet access, the combo that really would have made a difference to any kids that had a thirst for learning. Hell, if you gave me a computer tomorrow that I couldn't hook into the web, it would go in a cupboard until I needed a portable DVD player. If the study is limited to ONLY the provision of a computer and nothing of the surrounding infrastructure then the study is useless.

You might as well give me a free car with no insurance, no tax, no licence and no MOT and draw the same "it makes no difference" conclusion when I don't use it.

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@auburnman (was: Re: Only computers?)

I had many un-networked computers before tehintrawebtubes existed.

Made sense to connect them ... so I did.

I learned lots. And helped to build tehintrawebtubes.

Free network access to tehintrawebtubes didn't exist as we built it. It was spendy. But we persisted.

And today, auburnman. you gripe if a computer can't run TCP/IP & connect to the Internet right from the git-go in a learning situation? ... You seem to be completely clueless. Hint: You can't run before you can walk.

Your car simile is bogus ... there is no licensing with computers (alas).

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Re: Only computers?

Implying they won't use it for cat videos and porn like normal people.

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Stop

Re: @auburnman (was: Only computers?)

Yes I do gripe if a computer can't connect to the internet in a learning situation. Because a kid might have no technical aptitude whatsoever, or come from a family who don't already have an internet connection and genuinely can't afford to get one for their kid.

There will be youths out there like you who will fall in love with the technology itself and will do whatever it takes to get it working and hopefully go on to a wonderful career in IT. But for every one of those there will be many more children who are left with an overpriced doorstep when they could be learning about Physics or Chemistry or history or even just browsing Wikipedia or watching shitty manufactured boybands on Youtube - you never know what might kindle an interest in learning more.

You seem to ignore the opportunity for learning outside of the IT sphere. Just the slightest bit of extra investment could have opened up a whole new world to disadvantaged children.

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FAIL

Right now in schools pupils are not taught to use technology they are taught to be users of technology.

MPs, MSPs, unions, head teachers, and other higher level organisations are all in thrall of technology especially 'apps' and 'cloud' without the slightest understanding or any desire to understand how it works or what these companies do with the information they insist on being uploaded to these companies.

All they know is that they MUST be the one to shout loudest about using technology.

It's a race to the bottom.

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Unhappy

Most useful "IT" skill I learned in school.

2 pass assembler construction? No.

Self modifying code? No.

Programming in an obsolete language? No.

Touch typing? Yes.

How many decades have we thought the QWERTY keyboard obsolete? How many decades has it continued to persist? For bulk data entry this is still the state of the art. How many people actually use voice recognition text entry? Pen?

If' you never do a "real" IT job it will still be damm handy.

The people of Xerox PARC introduced school children to computers as ways to enable the child's creativity, not to shackle them to the command sets of Windows applications forever.

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Re: Most useful "IT" skill I learned in school.

> Programming in an obsolete language? No.

This isn't job-training, its teaching how to think of algorithms, using a handy computer language. It may include how relational algebra works, or the principles behind view planes and how perspective relates to 3D graphics. It's why Logo has a place, but Excel macros probably don't.

Just like most physics classes, it probably won't ever be used, but Comp Sci classes should be available. Just don't go near that ICT rubbish.

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Alert

Clifford Stoll was right

Silicon Snake Oil and High-tech Heretic should be required reading for eveyrone involved in education.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Clifford Stoll was right

`Stoll .. made various predictions, e.g. about e-commerce (calling it nonviable due to a lack of personal contact and secure online funds transfers) and the future of printed news publications ("no online database will replace your daily newspaper")'. link

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a useful tool if used correctly

I am an ICT Technician in a UK school, so may have a unique perspective.

Children will need an understanding of how to use types of program like a spreadsheet or wordporcessor, and ICT gives the students that however that teaches them how to use Office 2010, and 2013's changes make that knowledge is obslite before they have even started learning it.

The only good suggestion of the UK education review is an increased focus on computer science however no teacher in the school (a high school for 13-19 year olds) has an understanding of computer science so who would teach it, the Technicians?

Computers are useful, but many teachers use a lession in a computer room as a bribe to try to convince children to behave, reaserch performed on the computers could just as easily be done in the library (which is far better than when I was a student) however most students are lost if you suggest they use a book for reaserch, book reserch is becoming a forgotten skill.

the school has roughly 600 PCs, 100 staff and 1000 students, our oldest PCs are about 9 years old.

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Re: a useful tool if used correctly

This brings back memories of my days as a technician too. A few teachers were experimenting with using computers effectively but all the kids who caused the most trouble were put into a single class and they spent more time in the computer suite than any other class by far.

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Meh

Re: a useful tool if used correctly

"Children will need an understanding of how to use types of program like a spreadsheet or wordporcessor, and ICT gives the students that however that teaches them how to use Office 2010, and 2013's changes make that knowledge is obslite before they have even started learning it."

True.

But are you typing this on a phone?

Spell check is your friend.

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Typing & Curiosity

Kids should learn how to touch type. I learned on a manual typewriter and every mistake was painful, no backspace key... I learned to do it correctly because it was a pain the ass to correct. Now I'm a more than decent typist.

There were computers in my home from the 70's on so I guess I had an advantage but I was never taught to use them. My father gave me one and allowed me to discover and explore it myself. I was interested and I figured it out through trial and error. I feel like teaching the 'right' way is taking away from the possibilities a computer offers. Higher level theory and general best practices are one thing but teaching to a specific package is not teaching, it is training: Two wholly different things.

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my two cents worth

it seems to me that the belief in the computers in schools is like the belief in computerized voting machines--inversely proportional to what was knows about computing.

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Teaching needs to adapt

No child left behind, and other misdirected initiatives, leave little flexibility in teaching. We don't USE computers in the classroom. At best, they are test taking boxes, and typing practice tools.

We need to use them to open children's horizons, but the tight curricula, the required lowest-common-denominator method of teaching to the weakest skills in the class, and setting the curriculum around a low target all make typical computer use rather pointless.

We need exciting curricula, better content, and the flexibility to let kids explore their Internet world.

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Anonymous Coward

Computers and homework?

"Overall, these results suggest that increasing access to home computers among students who do not already have access is unlikely to greatly improve educational outcomes"

Presumably because the students were too busy assembling electronic kit and writing their own games in assembler, to be bothered to spend effort on passing exams, which is what modern education is mostly about. Access to the Raspberry Pi would do more for their education than all the proper curriculum on the planet.

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