The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Alex Masters

Schools that reject technology are not switched on

A Steiner school has rejected technology in the classroom. Alex Masters thinks they’re missing a trick.

A recent Guardian report ‘Could Steiner schools have a point on children, tablets and tech?’ reveals that a Steiner school in Nottingham has rejected tablets, computers and whiteboards in favour of a more hands-on, experiential approach to teaching and learning.

The school was recently declared outstanding by the School Inspection Service (the independent equivalent of Ofsted). So should all schools take this as an example and abandon technology altogether? I think not.

Granted, some of the cases against technology in schools are compelling. As the Guardian article notes, one recent study found that pupils barred from using laptops or digital aids in lectures and seminars did better in exams than those allowed to use computers and access the internet. And a report from OECD found that computers do not noticeably improve pupils’ academic results and can even hamper performance. 

Plus think of the money you’d save. According to a report from eteach, the amount of money schools spent on technology hit a new record in 2014, with each primary school spending over £14,000 and each secondary over £65,000 on software, hardware and technical support. Russell Hobby, a leading headteacher, has called for schools to spend money on hiring great teachers, rather than buying computers.

From personal experience, using technology to teach often made no difference to the quality of my lessons. In fact, they were often detrimental: whiteboards would fail to calibrate so writing was suddenly indecipherable, whizzy online links would refuse to work, computers would crash, and pupils would fidget. I sometimes found that it formed more of a distraction than a tool to encourage learning.

Where things fall apart

And yet, despite these reports, and despite being a self-confessed Luddite, I still think a wholesale rejection of technology is wrong.

Technology, when used in collaboration with other methods of teaching and learning, clearly has its advantages. When used creatively (and I have seen teachers do this skilfully), technology can engage children, especially those who struggle with reading and writing. Put something familiar in front of them (i.e. an iPad that they use at home) and it is something they feel comfortable with, rather than daunted by.

As another OECD report suggests it’s about integrating technology, rather than making it exclusive above all other modes of T&L. Further, the report found that pupils who use computers moderately at school tend to have better learning outcomes than those who use them rarely.

‘[Technology] offers the use of new pedagogies, such as active learning in collaborative workspaces, real-time assessments, remote and virtual learning landscapes, and sophisticated software that includes simulation and offers social media and in-depth games,’ the report stated.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, believes that schools need to find more effective ways of integrating technology into teaching and learning which ‘provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world’.

Indeed, we live in a hyper-connected, digitised society. To be in denial of this would be hugely unfair for pupils who need to be prepared for surviving and thriving in the outside world.

Demonising

The evidence for and against using technology is compelling on both sides. But, until we hear otherwise, we should not risk demonising one form of learning in favour of another.

As experts opine time and time again, there is no silver bullet for learning. We need to embrace all methods with their flaws, benefits and complexities. Pupils need to explore a wide variety of new challenges, be that by reading, using a computer or making things with their hands. Throwing the technological baby out with the bathwater is not the answer.

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