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Researcher: Computers in Schools Do Not Improve Students' Results

The connection between scholastic achievement and computerization is insignificant, says Israel Prize laureate.

A plan to upgrade computer facilities at the nation's schools has been taking shape in recent weeks at the Education Ministry, but not all educational experts think that reliance on computers in schools is a good idea.

Prof. Gabi Salomon of the University of Haifa, who is an Israel Prize laureate in education, said studies of tens of thousands of students around the world have shown that the connection between scholastic achievement and computerization is insignificant, and sometimes the influence of computers is even negative.

In 1993, the Education Ministry released a plan which provided for a computer for every ten Israeli schoolchildren. According to a 2009 Knesset report, the actual average number of students per computer stood at 12.9, and about half the schools had failed to achieve the 1993 target of a computer for every ten children.

The situation has generally been addressed by purchasing additional computers when budgets allow, but recently a new trend has surfaced in which a computer and projection screen have replaced the traditional blackboard, in what was dubbed the "smart classroom" in an effort to create an "interactive educational experience." There are now several dozen such classrooms around the country. Under a new computerization plan being developed by the Education Ministry, the ministry is exploring the possibility of expanding the number of smart classrooms.

Not everyone is in favor, however. An elementary school teacher who teaches in a "smart classroom" said that a "regular computer and projector do the same thing and cost less." She added that "every few years there is enthusiasm for a new technology that purportedly has huge educational potential, but after a while everything is forgotten. Without a change in the traditional role of the teacher, there is no advantage in using technology and computers. They only make us forget the essential fact that to improve achievement levels, you have to invest first of all in the teachers themselves."

Salomon agreed, saying that the smart classrooms are "too sophisticated," adding that "you have to write something and all the students need to see it. I, too, like pictures and multimedia, but it's absolutely possible to use a simple projector. The investment in smart classrooms is large and unnecessary."

When Salomon won the Israel price in 2001, he was described in the award ceremony brochure as "a figure with an international reputation in the field of the computerization of education," but he now attributes several factors to his disappointment over the computer's educational promise. He said as long as education is based on rote learning and "regurgitation" by the students of what they have been presented, the computer cannot improve teaching methods. The use of technology to serve outmoded educational goals, he said, "may not cause harm, but it certainly doesn't provide much benefit."

Salomon also said the use of computers is too often seen as a solution for all the problems of the educational system: "They tell us that the future is on the Internet," he notes disapprovingly. "Facebook and Twitter don't bridge educational gaps. Beyond the humiliating attitude to teachers, relating to computers as the most important thing is an illusion. It has no scientific basis."

Salomon's view is based on several studies in recent years on the educational influence of computers. A New Zealand researcher who in 2007 analyzed results from a range of studies involving 200 million students found that the top 30 factors predicting educational achievement related to the teacher, including his or her relationship with the students. Multimedia teaching methods were ranked 83rd, while the Internet, with negligible influence, was in 89th place.

"I am not against computerization," Salomon stressed, "but [rather] against the blind use of computers. You have to find the areas in which the computer can contribute in a unique manner, and not put more and more computers in schools. How many more studies are needed to show that additional computers don't change students' achievements, while educational goals remain unchanged? It's an unnecessary investment of major resources."