Privacy SOS

OECD report: Classroom tech does not produce exceptional learning outcomes or close achievement gaps

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The education technology sector is worth approximately $8 billion annually. Companies large and small contract with schools from kindergarten through university to manage student information, supply laptops and tablets, and provide educational software often oriented around producing “individual learning” plans driven by data mined from students’ habits and scores.

Understandably, parents are concerned about what’s happening with their children’s information amidst this new gold rush. As the ACLU of Massachusetts will show in a forthcoming report on student privacy issues in this state, schools aren’t doing all they can to ensure that student privacy is protected as technologies are integrated into administrations and classrooms. We’re interested in a levelheaded conversation about these important issues, a conversation based in fact and not hyperbole.

A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adds important facts to the conversation, casting doubt on a core claim at the center of the EdTech revolution: that the more technology students use, the better they will perform academically.

Besides raising thorny and unresolved privacy issues, the educational technology sector (known in the biz as “EdTech”) poses questions about the encroachment of private, commercial business into the public school space. While companies and schools that don’t think through their privacy or security policies put students at risk for very real harms, school systems and the taxpaying public at large should also think about another kind of cost: money.

Whenever a police department is considering new surveillance technology, interested parties should ask and answer two questions: 1. Does it do what it’s supposed to do? And 2. Do the costs—to privacy and free society, or to the city’s budget—outweigh the benefits? These questions should also apply to the EdTech sector. The new OECD report on the efficacy of using technology in classrooms asks just those questions, and the results suggest that the $8 billion outsourced to technology companies in the US alone might be better spent in house.

Among the report’s findings, according to the BBC:

  • Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results
  • Students who use computers moderately at school, such as once or twice a week, have “somewhat better learning outcomes” than students who use computers rarely
  • The results show “no appreciable improvements” in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in information technology
  • High achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of computer use in school
  • Singapore, with only a moderate use of technology in school, is top for digital skills

OECD’s education director Andreas Schleicher told the BBC that among the most disappointing findings was that access to technology doesn’t close achievement gaps separating students from poor and rich backgrounds. According to Schleicher, ensuring students can competently perform in basic reading and math is a better approach to closing the gap than “access to hi-tech devices,” the BBC reports.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.