Use of Computers
Leads to Worse Achievements
Computer assistance doubtful for pupils –
study corrects Pisa results
elv. “Schools online”, “E-Learning”, “information society”, “digital gap” – for years we have been fooled into believing that we will lose ground within education if we do not network all schools as fast as possible and provide each pupil with a computer workstation. Learning on-line – there are even people who dream of classes without teachers. There is no country in Europe which has not yet invested enormous amounts of money and made enormous efforts in order to develop a computer infrastructure for its schools. The million-dollar computer “presents” that Bill Gates offered on his journeys through European schools and communities were accepted unreservedly.
The publication of the first Pisa Study (Programme For International Student Assessment by the OECD in 2000) served as a justification for these efforts. In Switzerland as well, it was largely agreed upon that pupils – according to the study – make too little use of computers in schools and at home and that this “deficit” must be remedied as fast as possible. The Swiss federal project “Schools online” was approved in 2001 by the National Council, and despite their emphasis on cutting down on expenditure the Swiss private economic sector as well as the Federation and the cantons funded a sum to the tune of 1 billion Swiss francs.1 The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” wrote, for instance, that “the results of the [Pisa] Study concerning computer use legitimated the implementation of the Swiss Federal programme ‘Schools online’”.2 In the meantime, the two scientists Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann of the ifo-institute for economic research at the University of Munich have completed a comprehensive empirical study which disproves the theory that increased use of computers improves school achievements.3
According to the Pisa study those pupils who used a computer obtained better school achievements. This simplified view displays, however, a powerful distortion of conditions since those pupils who use a computer at home frequently come from families with higher income and higher education levels, from families in which the parents often place more value on the education of their children. It is obvious that on the one hand, a computer is more frequently available to these pupils, but on the other hand, they also have better conditions for learning and thus show better school achievements. When investigating the question of computer influence on learning it is necessary to compare pupils from similar family backgrounds.
This is what the researchers of the ifo-institute did in their study. As a basis for their research, they used the extensive data of the Pisa-2000-Study. In contrast to the Pisa study they combined, however, the test results with background information about the family and educational surroundings of the pupils, which had likewise been collected for the Pisa study. They altogether evaluated the data of approximately 100,000 15-year-old pupils from 32 countries. They came to the result that a two-dimensional connection between computer use and good school achievements, as described in the context of the Pisa study, was extremely misleading.
The real facts are alarming: If one includes the learners’ surroundings into the research, one sees that pupils who have access to a computer at home show worse school achievements than those without computer access. The computer thus affects learning success of children and young people negatively. The ifo experts assume that the computer distracts the pupils and prevents them from learning through computer games, internet surfing etc. Something similar also applies to the use of computers at school. Even if one includes the learning conditions, for instance the equipment of the school, into the research, no relevant improvement of school achievements can be shown. On the contrary, particularly frequent computer use at school leads to worse achievements. Clearly, there is no better way to achieve good school results than by learning, learning, learning.
1 cf. «Der Bund» of 8 Dec 2001
2 «Neue Zürcher Zeitung» of 5 Dec 2001
3 Computers and Student Learning: Bivariate and Multivariate Evidence on the Availability and Use of Computers at Home and at School, CESifo Working Paper No. 1321, to be found at:
www.cesifo-group.de > Publication Series > Working Papers.