Kliptown Secondary School class of 2014 gather in a nearby church hall to write their final exams. The school is expected to achieve above 95 %. Picture: Timothy Bernard 28.10.2014

Durban - South Africa needs to “proceed with caution” in its eagerness to roll out paperless classrooms, a senior education researcher with the Human Sciences Research Council has said.

Researcher Linda Zuze was referring to an international study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which found no substantial improvement in pupils’ reading, maths or science achievement in countries that had invested heavily in information and communication technology (ICT) for education.

She warned that there was no substitute for good teaching.

The study asserted that technology could amplify great teaching, but that great technology could not make up for poor teaching. It pointed out that reading online required the same skills as reading a printed page, and that pupils who had not acquired basic skills in reading, writing and navigating through a digital landscape would find themselves unable to participate fully in the economic, social and cultural life around them.

The study argued that to reduce inequalities in children’s ability to benefit from digital tools, countries needed to improve equity in education first.

Ensuring that every child could read and do maths would do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than could be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to hi-tech devices and services.

Computer-based test results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) showed that the difference between socio-economic groups in the ability to use ICT tools for learning was largely, if not entirely, explained by the difference observed in more traditional academic abilities.

The study found that ICT was linked to better pupil performance only in certain contexts, such as when computer software and internet connections helped to increase study time and practice.

“Teaching and learning is about conveying a message to children in a systematic way, and in a safe and adequately resourced environment,” Zuze said. “Any technological investment needs to support these fundamental objectives. Technology should not be a distraction.”

Quoting Amanda Ripley, the US author of ‘The Smartest Kids in the World’, Zuze said countries where the schooling system had transformed for the better had a few key ingredients in common: teachers and teaching were prioritised, parents participated actively at schools, and educational quality was a national priority.

“So before leaping on board the tech bandwagon, perhaps we should first focus on ensuring that schools have suitable infrastructure and essential resources, such as proper sanitation, nutrition, desks, chairs and, most importantly, good teachers,” said Zuze.

She cautioned that great teachers who were not technology savvy could also be tripped up by the push for paperless classrooms.

The Mercury