Here’s something that may not make immediate sense (especially considering SA’s current drive to get more ICT into schools, not less): having computers and tablets and internet access in schools does not necessarily lead to smarter, better-educated students.

This is according to a new study by PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, titled Students, computers and learning: Making the connection.

It’s a 204-page document that goes into substantial detail about the ways in which “…the reality in our schools lags considerably behind the promise of technology”, and how in 2012 there was no appreciable improvement in the reading, maths and science performance of schools in rich countries that had invested heavily in education-focused ICT.

Instead, it’s “intensive teacher-student interactions” and a solid foundation in maths, science and reading skills that are at the heart of a good education, and technology actually serves as a distraction from “this valuable human engagement”.

Great tech can’t replace poor teaching

In short: it’s good teachers, and not good technology, that make for a quality education, and that reading comprehension and a good understanding of maths and science is of greater benefit than access to cutting-edge tech. As the study says, “Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching”.

Getting more tablets into schools, then, or investing heavily in educational tech isn’t necessarily the way forward for a country interested in producing students who will be ready to take on careers in the information age.

But that’s not all it says. The study also explores the notion that it’s possible modern teaching methods have just not figured out yet how to make the most of technology, and that “adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

So the quest to find the right balance between traditional teaching methodologies and modern-day tech is ongoing, and technology isn’t, of itself, a bad thing to have in schools.

Local relevance

While the study was conducted in first-world OECD countries and reaches back to 2012 for most of its data, it’s relevant for us down here in South Africa as it highlights some pretty important dos and don’ts when it comes to improving our own education system.

The big takeaway is that it’s better teachers and a focus on providing relevant reading, science and maths skills that will ultimately pave the way to having a nation of adults who’re able to cope with – and thrive in – the digital world of the future. And it’s not, quite ironically, better access to computer equipment and the internet that’ll get us there.

If you’d like to read the study in its entirety – and it’s highly recommended if you’re even remotely involved in education in South Africa – you can find it here.

[Source – OECD, Image – “OLPC classroom teaching” by RudolfSimonOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.]
Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.