Are computers in the classroom really such a good idea?


TALKBACK:ARE COMPUTERS in our classrooms a benefit or a hindrance to effective teaching? Is their presence undermining the capacity of teachers to develop numeracy and literacy skills among our students?

Worryingly, Ireland has slipped down the latest OECD education rankings in literacy and maths.

On reading levels, Ireland has slipped from 5th place in 2000 to 17th place, the sharpest decline among 39 countries surveyed.

In maths, Ireland has fallen from 16th to 26th place, the second steepest decline among participating countries. Ireland is now ranked as below average in maths.

So are computers in the classroom contributing to our downfall? Firstly, it must be acknowledged that ICT has great educational potential, and gives all learners access to unlimited high-quality resources.

The problem is that many teachers have very few skills or training in utilising computers as a pedagogical tool.

In this State, we have vast experience of high quality, traditional education by chalk and talk. ICT in the classroom is the new frontier but we may be ill-equipped to utilise its full educational potential. Are we disempowering both teachers and students by placing powerful ICT resources in the classroom?

Do children see computers mainly as a source of entertainment and fun rather than as an educational resource?

To be fair, there are many excellent online programmes which can support teachers in teaching all subjects, including literacy and numeracy skills. The problem is that many skilled teachers can be transformed into apprehensive bystanders when confronted with 30 children sitting in front of PCs.

When a child turns on a computer in the presence of any adult, either at home or in school, it is highly probable that the normal skill relationship between them is immediately inverted.

No teacher can view 30 computer screens simultaneously. Children are expert at ensuring that the appropriate image is on their monitor when the teacher or parent is hovering close by.

Limiting student online access to approved sites in class is central to our national ICT strategy. But this will not stop students attempting to use computers for entertainment purposes, if they can get away with it.

This is what they do at home, so why should school time be any different? I am not attempting to turn the educational clock back to as pre- computer age. ICT has huge pedagogical potential if effectively used by both teacher and student.

Have we put the cart before the horse? Have we equipped schools with computers before providing teachers with the appropriate pedagogical tools and giving them the in-service training required to realise its full potential?

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, Dublin