Great tech can't replace poor teaching

Investing heavily in ICT for education doesn't lead to appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, maths or science, according to a new OECD study.

'Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching,' Andreas Schleicher, Director of the organisation's Directorate for Education and Skills said, and added the reality in schools 'lags considerably behind the promise of technology'.

He said, to deliver on that promise, countries need to develop strategies to build teacher capacity and teachers themselves need to become 'active agents for change' when it comes to implementing and designing technology-related innovations.

The OECD report - Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connections - found that, where computers are used in the classroom their impact on student learning outcomes is 'mixed at best'.

'Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely,' Schleicher said in his foreword. 'But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.'

The report also highlighted students who reported spending the most time online outside school were at greater risk of feeling lonely at school, arriving late, or skipping lessons.

Data from the 2012 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests for 15-year-olds were analysed to compare the digital skills of students and learning environments.

The report findings include:

  • In 2012, 96 per cent of 15-year-olds in the OECD countries taking part in PISA reported they have a computer at home, but only 72 per cent said they used one at school.
  • In Korea and Shanghai - two of the top performers in the PISA 2012 digital reading and computer-based mathematics tests - 42 per cent and 38 per cent of students, respectively, reported using computers at school.
  • This is the first time PISA measured how much time students spend using the internet at home and at school.
  • On average, across OECD countries, students spend over two hours online each day on weekdays and weekends.
  • On weekdays in Australia, Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Russia and Sweden, more than one in four students spend over four hours online outside school.
  • Students spending more than six hours online per weekday outside school are particularly at risk of reporting that they feel lonely at school, and that they arrived late or skipped school.

Schleicher raised the possibility that technology in the classroom could sometimes be a distraction from the intensive teacher-student interaction needed to help students develop higher-order thinking skills and a deeper understanding of concepts.

'Another interpretation is that we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st Century technologies to 20th Century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.'

Despite the many challenges raised, he added that we shouldn't despair at the report's findings.

'We need to get this right in order to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st-century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow's world.'

Highlighting the benefits of technology, Schleicher said students could now have access to the world's best and most up-to-date textbook rather than being limited to print texts, and educators and students could also now easily tap into specialised materials.

'Technology provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. Perhaps most importantly, technology can support new pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants with tools for inquiry-based pedagogies and collaborative workspaces.'


OECD (2015). Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. PISA, OECD Publishing.

To read the full OECD report Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, click the link.