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Technology, students and learning

Unlike Europe, the majority of our children come from homes where technology at
home is a pipe-dream

Wednesday, 23 September 2015
• New studies point to practical approaches for Sri
Lanka
ICT has offered much promise in efficiencies in delivery of
quality education, but the results have been
disappointing.
The latest OECD report titled Students, Computers and
Learning: Making the Connection joins a host of other
systematic reviews of ICT use in education that has
emerged in the last few years. At this juncture when the
new Government is looking for policy solutions in
education including the possible introduction of tablets in
schools, a review of these studies is opportune indeed.
Execution of ICT initiatives in the developing
countries is problematic
In their review of impact of ICT in education in developing

country contexts, Tolani-Brown et al. (2009) laments the lack of evaluation
studies and notes that policymakers are driven by their intuition not
evidence. Initiatives are launched with much fanfare and then forgotten.
The OLPC initiative launched in December of 2010 in Sri Lanka is a case in
point. World Bank aid was used to provide 1,000 green and white
Negroponte laptops to nine schools. Digital materials were tailor-made and
loaded into the distributed laptops, but the initiative did not progress
beyond project stage and an evaluation of the project was either not carried
out at all or not made public.
Mahindodaya technology laboratories project is the latest initiative with
nearly all 1,000 schools already equipped with computers and laboratory
equipment. I recently attended an opening of one of those laboratories with
60+computers for a school with 300 children and a lethargic IT teacher in
charge. The computers were already over one year old when the children
finally got to pose pictures. The writing was on the wall and I left the place
with a heavy heart.
Learning outcomes from developed
countries are disappointing
The OECD report titled Students,
Computers and Learning: Making the
Connection finds that, despite the
pervasiveness of Information and
Communication Technologies (ICT) in
their daily lives, these technologies have
not yet been as widely adopted in formal
education in developed countries. And
where they are used in the classroom,
their impact on student performance is
mixed, at best.
The report is based on a survey of
students who sat for the Program for
International Student Assessment (PISA)
in 2012. The study shows that results for
reading and mathematics for children
who sat the exam are not correlated with
the state of technology investment in
education in their schools.
In fact, children who reported above
average use of technology show poorer
results than even after correction for
interfering socio-economic factors. As the
report makes clear, investments to equip

students with basic literacy and numeracy skills is all one may need to help
them prepare for participation fully in the digitised societies of the 21st
century.
Reason for lack of success
Professor Kentor Toyama of University of Michigan identifies three factors
which make digital technologies difficult to implement in the classroom.
First, digital technology requires a lot of skill and resources to use and
maintain, and the world’s poorest schools generally can’t afford the
required support on an ongoing basis.
Second, good pedagogy is difficult enough in itself, but when combined with
the additional burden of incorporating computers, it is even more difficult.
Teachers are already juggling with large class sizes, standardised curricula,
examinations and miscellaneous administrative requirements. For them,
computers in the classroom is just another imposition from higher
bureaucracies.
Third and perhaps most significant, he argues, is the fact that digital
devices tend to amplify students’ natural inclinations for distraction.
Students become addicted to sensory stimulation for its own sake and
bypass deep thinking and learning. It’s like giving them sweets before
dinner. His conjectures make common-sense although the scientific studies
to establish them are missing.
Four types of IT use in school education
For our work at LIRNEasia we found it useful to define four types of ICT uses
in education (1) Teachers use outside of class (2) Teachers’ use in the class
(3) students’ use in the classroom and (4) students’ use outside the class.
In Finland where they are reputed to have one of the best education
systems in the world, teachers use ICT outside of the class to prepare for
class, for presentations in class but they don’t encourage ICT use in the
classroom, for lower grades lower than senior secondary in particular. In
fact, in the Schoolnet survey conducted by the European Union in 2013,
Finnish teachers reported the least usage of ICT from among teachers in
other countries in Europe.
After school use of computers by students more productive?
Another phenomenon observed in Finland is the high use of computers and
mobile phones by students on their own for school work outside the class.
The EU Schoolnet survey also finds that students in Europe in fat use ICT for
education at home more than in class.
We may find the same phenomenon among upper middle class families in

Sri Lanka, where children come home to environments steeped in
technology and use the technology for doing class projects, etc. quite
naturally. However, unlike Europe, the majority of our children come from
homes where technology at home is a pipe-dream.
Technologically-enriched after school experience for disadvantaged
students
Sri Parakrambahu Vidyalaya on Muhandiram Mavatha in Colombo 5 is
located in a spacious and picturesque property with much greenery and a
natural pond to boot. Existing in the shadows of more popular national
schools in Colombo, this type of school is the choice for children from
neighbouring pockets of low-income housing in the area.
As characteristics of these schools, total enrolment of students is in the
range of 300-400 and pass rates in public examinations is dismal. For
example, in 2014, 22 students sat for the GCE (O/L) and only two
succeeded with the requisite six passes that include math and the first
language.
These schools have the infrastructure to serve these students better
because they are truly neighbourhood schools. There are no school vans
parked outside because all children live close enough for a casual stroll to
the school. The ample spaces available in most of these schools can be
upgraded to provide 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. safe and nurturing places for students.
Some schools already have fully equipped but underused IT labs.
The concept of seamless schooling is already applied in schools in the
Western Province where teachers in failing schools are asked to keep the
schools open during the holidays to help their students prepare for exams.
Extending the concept, facilities in these schools including the technology
laboratories can be kept open for use from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days.
The schools cannot do this alone. Providing seamless educational
environment for under-privileged children provides an excellent avenue of
CSR initiative by corporate entities in Colombo. After all, kids from these
schools is their natural labour pool.
Posted by Thavam