Tech won’t close achievement gap

Technology won’t close the achievement gap, writes psychologist Susan Pinker in the New York Times. “Showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices” could widen the class divide, she warns.  

In the early 2000s, nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students were given networked computers. There was “a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” concluded a multi-year study by Duke economists. “What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest,” writes Pinker. “When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.”

It’s likely many kids weren’t using the devices to do school work, she speculates. Most people prefer to play games and surf social media sites.

Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.

One Laptop Per Child gives low-cost laptops to poor children so they can “go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required,” writes Pinker. It hasn’t worked out that way. Children spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before, researchers reported.

In the classroom, “technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific, highly trained teacher,” writes Pinker.

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge asks students to shut down their digital devices for a few days and then discuss or write about their experiences.

Ethiopia: Can tablets replace teachers?

Can Tablets Take the Place of Teachers?

From BachelorsDegreeOnline.com.

One-per-child laptops flop in Peru

Five years ago Peru partnered with One Laptop Per Child to give low-cost laptops to 800,000 public school students, writes Innosight’s Michael Horn. Digital technology was supposed to improve learning and fight poverty. The $200 million initiative “has largely been a flop.”

In an eSchool News story, one person “wonders if it may have even widened the gaps between rich and poor students in the country,” Horn notes.

Ouch.

Yet this was entirely predictable ahead of time.

. . . Technology by itself does not transform anything in any sector. What tends to matter far more is the model in which the technology is used.

The One Laptop Per Child initiative in particular gathered significant publicity and hype for its admirable goals, but people implementing it in many countries appeared not to have thought through the professional development teachers would need or, even more importantly, a redesign of the schooling model itself to leverage the considerable benefits that digital learning can deliver.

The U.S. spent well over $60 billion to equip classrooms with computers with little to show for it, Horn writes.  A potentially disruptive technology has been used to sustain the existing education model, not to transform it.

There is a long history of schools using technologies to, in effect, sustain the chalkboard and prop up the 20th-century factory model classroom with the teacher in front of 20 to 30 students of the same age. The recent hype over electronic white boards has been only the latest incarnation of this.

“Districts spending wildly on iPads and other devices should take note” of technology’s limits, concludes Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class