Last week Dr John Vallance, principal of highly acclaimed Sydney Grammar School, spoke out against the use of technology in schools. He describes the use of laptops and tablets in class as a ‘scandalous waste of money’ which only benefit giant US tech companies. Dr Vallance is a highly respected educationalist. Born and educated in Australia, he went on to complete his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge where he subsequently taught Classics before returning to Sydney. He believes that the use of technology in class is a major distraction for students, ‘[Teaching is] about interaction ¬between people, about discussion, about conversation.’, Dr Vallance said in an interview with The Australian. While few would argue with his belief that teaching is about social interaction, the notion that technology discourages such interaction is questionable.
Our extensive research for Techknowledge for Schools has shown that while distraction is an issue, learning to deal with it is an important part of students’ learning. Dr Vallance calls for a ban on the use of technology in schools, but it could be argued that since technology is now so integral to children’s lives, learning to deal with its potential for distraction is paramount. Our recent report, Future Skills, demonstrates that using technology in school prepares pupils for future employment and is believed by teachers to build communication skills. Another FK&Y report interviewed over 7,000 students, and found that students who use technology in class are more likely to develop a responsible attitude towards it.
Last year a report from the OECD claimed that investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance. The widely publicised research was based on assessment of the PISA tests taken between 2009 and 2012 in 70 countries. While the findings were questioned and schools using technology disagreed with the findings, it has set up an important debate about the advantages and challenges of using technology in schools. Indeed the OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleicher, pointed out that the report’s findings should not be cited as an excuse not to use technology, but rather as a prompt to find more effective ways of integrating and using it in the classroom.
Several teachers and head teachers critiqued the OECD’s report. Former headmaster at Sherborne Preparatory School in Dorset, Peter Tait, wrote in a blog post that technology itself cannot be blamed for its lack of impact. Reflecting our research findings, Tait argued that too often technology is introduced without a clear plan for how it will be used and that the time needed to integrate technology into the curriculum has not been addressed by policy makers and educational experts. Head teacher Karin George of Westfields Junior School in Hampshire argued in a BBC Radio 4 interview that the extensive use of technology at her school contributes to the development of skills such as collaboration, independence and confidence, reflecting our research with teachers. We know from our research that parents often feel unable to regulate their child’s use of technology at home. Children need to learn how to use technology appropriately and schools are in a unique position to help teach this.