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.