Frontier Centre Releases Report on the Use and Misuse of Information Technology in Schools

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released Computers in the Classroom: Technology Overboard?, a background report on the use and misuse of technology in classrooms.

Written by Michael Zwaagstra, a high school social studies teacher in Manitoba, the report states that studies show that students with the most access to computers at home and school have lower test scores than those who have less access to computers.

Many of these researchers believe that younger students are even more negatively affected by excessive computer exposure than are those in higher grades.

In addition, Zwaagstra said, computer technology is very expensive and school divisions in Manitoba already spend more than $26 million per year in this area. “Because computers rapidly become obsolete, he writes, “it is costly to keep school computer labs up to date. It would be more effective for computer instruction to take place at the high school level rather than beginning at the early or middle levels. This way, teachers at the younger grade levels would be able to focus on providing a solid grounding in the basics so that their students are prepared for high school.”

Students need to learn how to operate computers, he conceded. However, the province needs to implement a more balanced information technology strategy in order to ensure that schools maintain a proper balance in this area. Information technology is not “a foundation skill area to be developed in every subject area and grade.”

Specific to Manitoba, Zwaagstra found that:

The Manitoba government has identified working with information technology as “a foundation skill area to be developed in every subject area and grade.”

School divisions in Manitoba spend more than $26 million annually on information technology in schools.

There are several reasons to be concerned about this excessive focus on computers in the classroom.

Studies show that when factors such as household income are controlled, there is no evidence that greater access to computers at school has a positive correlation with academic achievement.

Equipping schools with additional computers can be very expensive. Since school divisions have fixed budgets, money is often diverted from other important areas.

While it may make sense for students in higher grades to become computer literate, the same does not hold true for those in earlier grades. Introducing computers at too young an age can have a negative effect on academic achievement.

Not all teachers are skilled at integrating computer instruction into the regular classroom setting. Upgrading computer labs and providing students with personal laptops will be of little use unless teachers are able to effectively incorporate them into their instruction.

The provincial government needs to develop a more balanced approach to information technology.