Thursday, April 7

That computer dilemma

It's official: Computers don't help students any. The Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tested 100,000 15-year-olds in 32 developed or developing countries for math and literacy. The research revealed that students with computers actually showed diminished performances.

The scholars Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann of Munich University argued that the government drive to equip more students with computers was simply misplaced. "Computer availability was simply associated with better off, better-educated families and once family background was accounted for, the effects of computer ownership were found to be negative." On the other hand, the researchers also found out that "students with more than 500 books in their homes performed better in maths and science than those with none".

This latest study debunks the myth of the computer as educational tool: Students almost always never really use it for schoolwork. Instead they play online games, email their friends, download stuff. Or, as the researchers implied, computers actually contribute to a certain scholastic malignancy: "..if they are doing their homework, getting into bad cut-and-paste habits which will get them into trouble for plagiarism at university, assuming they ever get there."

This last part is of particular concern to me. For in the past week alone, I caught two students who applied the cut-and-paste method in their paper. I'm not saying that it's all bad. People are naturally attracted to the shiny rows of gadgets, and they do herald some sort of advancement. I can't imagine my life now without or before I acquired the computer. Actually I can: I can still see myself writing on reams of yellow paper and clacking along on a portable typewriter with its pica keys. The computer--especially one that's portable--is also very much appreciated, especially if you're a writer writing scripts that need numerous revisions. Save yourself from typing them drafts over and over again! But there's also the huge potential for distraction. Student, writer or office worker, it's all the same. You surf one site, you'll click the link and before you know it, hours and days are gone.

The report didn't say anything about laptops helping teachers teach though, but I suppose it's the same thing. It's still in how you use it, and there's really something to be said about the more traditional ways of education. Rather than acquiring shiny new objects, maybe that money's better spent on more teachers, classrooms, and (gasp!) books.

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