February 25, 2008
Computers in the Classroom
The Manitoba government has identified working with information technology as “a foundation skill area to be developed in every subject area and grade.”
School divisions in Manitoba spend more than $26 million annually on information technology in schools.
There are several reasons to be concerned about this excessive focus on computers in the classroom.
Studies show that when factors such as household income are controlled, there is no evidence that greater access to computers at school has a positive correlation with academic achievement.
Equipping schools with additional computers can be very expensive. Since school divisions have fixed budgets, money is often diverted from other important areas.
While it may make sense for students in higher grades to become computer literate, the same does not hold true for those in earlier grades. Introducing computers at too young an age can have a negative effect on academic achievement.
Not all teachers are skilled at integrating computer instruction into the regular classroom setting.
Upgrading computer labs and providing students with personal laptops will be of little use unless teachers are able to effectively incorporate them into their instruction.
The provincial government needs to develop a more balanced approach to information technology.
Full Backgrounder in PDF format (5 pages)
Michael C. Zwaagstra
is a research fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy who specializes in education policy. He has extensive teaching experience at a variety of grade levels and currently teaches high school social studies in Manitoba. He received his B.Ed., P.B.C.E., and M.Ed. degrees from the University of Manitoba where he won several academic awards such as the A. W. Hogg Undergraduate Scholarship, the Klieforth Prize in American History, and the Schoolmaster’s Wives Association Scholarship. As an educator, Michael is a strong proponent of raising academic standards, holding schools accountable for their results, and expanding the educational options available to parents. His columns promoting common sense education reform have been published in major daily newspapers including the National Post, Winnipeg Free Press, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and Calgary Herald. He is also a frequent guest on radio stations across the country. His best-selling first book, What's Wrong with Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, was released in mid-2010.
Computers in the Classroom
— September 15, 2009
The byline, that Ontario is planning to address the problem, is encouraging but I wonder how many poverty-stricken or working poor families will be able to send their kids to a school significantly farther away (in this age of nonresponsibility, though, probably a lot of parents will welcome the notion of their kids being gone for longer periods every day). I guess the province is somewhat cash poor these days and had to come up with something more creative than buying teachers new high tech teaching toys or other than throwing more money at the system. This tactic has proven time and again to be ineffective and even counterproductive. The notion that more exposure to a learning environment would not produce better informed students and sharper minds, generally, is folly. The problem, as I see it, is entirely related to the quality of the "education". When I was in high school, about thirty years ago, every once in a while I'd crack a math text book just to see how they explain things I thought were utterly obvious. In most cases my reaction was that the methods they use are incredibly convoluted when there is a clear and simple way to approach the problem. I just finished a grade eleven math course (took me like a month) and nothing has changed. For example, there was a question where it took a split second of thought for the correct answer to occur to me, but their solution is a long series of calculations (for which you are encouraged to use a mechanica device to carry out, of course)which "estimates" the answer, and only comes close the the right answer?!@#$!? It seems to me that the way they teach is absolutely in sync with the way the government runs society as a whole, inasmuch everything around you promotes how to make your life easy and comfortable and convenient, but virtually nothing systematic promoting (actual) healthiness or good character or mental soundness. I just have a very hard time accepting that this is not wholly intentional. -- E-mail from Ontario