We must avoid ‘moral panic’ over technology in schools, expert says

DCU professor criticises OECD report that linked computer use with poor performance

Principal Treasa Leahy with third-year pupils at Mercy Secondary School, Inchicore, Dublin,  with their mobile devices, used for digital learning in schools. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Principal Treasa Leahy with third-year pupils at Mercy Secondary School, Inchicore, Dublin, with their mobile devices, used for digital learning in schools. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

New research questioning the value of computer use in schools should not deter the Government from boosting its investment in classroom technology, according to a leading educationalist.

Prof Mark Brown, a New Zealander who is director of the National Institute for Digital Learning at Dublin City University, said he agreed with the view of the OECD, in its report published yesterday, that “the problems and ills of education are not solved through technology”.

However, he warned against the study feeding into “a moral panic about the use of technology in our schools”.

“One fundamental uneasiness I have with the report is it treats technology and the computer as a single entity.”

He also noted the conclusions were based on students’ performance in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests, which have been widely criticised internationally for their narrow scope.

Last year, 80 academics worldwide, including Ciarán Sugrue at UCD, and Mary Fleming and Manuela Heinz at NUI Galway, wrote an open letter to the OECD, calling for a halt to Pisa tests because, the group claimed, they were distorting educational outcomes.

Prof Brown said “we should have more debate about the role the school now plays in the 21st century”, and whether it is equipping the next generation to tackle the serious, global challenges ahead.

Integrate technology

He said New Zealand was near the top of the OECD table for computer use in schools and this was the result of a policy decision to better integrate technology in education.

This included the issuing of a laptop to every teacher as part of their contract “because if they have to know the technology, and use it well, they need to have access to it in the first place”.

The Department of Education and Skills is next month publishing a new National Digital Strategy for Schools, which seeks to build on the current roll-out of broadband to classrooms.

Addressing a conference today on digital learning in schools, organised by the Joint Managerial Body, an organisation that represents voluntary secondary schools, is Treasa Leahy, principal of Mercy Secondary School in Inchicore, Dublin.

She has introduced a “bring your own device” project allowing students to interact with their teachers online in the classroom.

A policy on mobile use was drawn up in conjunction with the school’s student council and parents, agreeing where and when devices could be used.

Group exercises are organised in the cloud, via Twitter or on blogs, resulting in “a much deeper level of learning”, says Ms Leahy.