Is digitisation in education really necessary?
By Simone van Dijk
The Education Council thinks so, provided it is done 'thoughtfully'. I was pleasantly surprised after reading the advice had read. Apparently, my observation that, at least at my child's school, digiboards and laptops were being purchased without any prior policy and vision was not so crazy. The Education Council too has observed this and advises schools that if they want to digitise they should do so 'thoughtfully' and not just 'because they can'.
I was also relieved to read that the Education Council explicitly points out harmful negative consequences of digitisation of education. So it turns out I am not alone in these thoughts either. The harmful physical and psychological consequences of too much internet and computer use, such as tablet-necking, cyberbullying and disconnection anxiety are mentioned. It is also pointed out that digitalisation puts social cohesion and thus also the socialisation function in education under pressure if direct interaction between teacher and pupil is no longer self-evident. The negative consequences of 'filter bubbles', which lead to alternative realities in which deliberate dissemination of misinformation is a daily occurrence, are discussed. The risk that access to information via the internet leads to a decrease in ready knowledge of facts, which has negative consequences for knowledge accumulation in our long-term memory, where existing knowledge is necessary as a basis for new knowledge, is mentioned. And the Council indicates that the internet as a source of information where you 'just look everything up' is actually outdated in the face of misinformation and filter bubbles.
The Council also sees that children's safety and privacy are at stake due to digitalisation of schools and believes that widespread use of ICT in all sectors of education should not lead to an unsafe pedagogical didactic climate: "Everyone should be able to develop safely, be vulnerable or rebellious, and grow up without being confronted with this in later life through images, texts or traces on the Internet."
Within schools, student data is stored within digital learning tools and student tracking systems, among other things. Storage of learning data is often done in the cloud at the software supplier. The council points out that storage in the cloud is not secure and that schools are not sufficiently aware of this. Profiling per se is not mentioned by the council, but is a lurking danger. Students still usually log in with their own name and surname in schools, so they can be easily identified and tracked.
So indeed, schools appear to be unaware of the risks they face in terms of student privacy, internet security and the dangers of cyber attacks. Schools are also unaware of their own responsibility in this regard.
So in itself, it is hopeful that the Education Council points out all these negative effects and shares the concerns I personally have regarding digitisation in education. However, if all the above-mentioned negative aspects are the result of digitisation of education, then there must be huge positive effects in return to still insist on that digitisation.
What these positive effects are has not become clear to me so far. Several studies show that digitisation of education does not lead to substantial improvements in learning outcomes. For instance, in 2015, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted a study in 31 countries on digitisation in education. It concluded that the use of computers in schools did not produce any significant improvement in students' learning outcomes. The studies the Education Council relies on also do not seem to measure more than a small positive difference in learning outcomes in education due to computers. Thus, digitisation because it greatly improves learning outcomes does not seem likely to be the basis for far-reaching digitisation in education.
So is it important for children to acquire digital skills at school to function well in today's and future digital society? In other words, should children become digitally literate at school? According to the council, digital literacy consists of the following four elements: button skills (or basic ICT skills), information skills (being able to search and assess information on the internet), media literacy (what to do and not to do on the internet) and computational thinking (skills that are essential for solving problems involving a lot of information, variables and computing power). The council believes that students should master these digital literacy skills at school.
However, according to several CEOs and employees of companies such as Google, Apple, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard and eBay, this is not necessary. They send their children to a Waldorf school (Free School) where computers are not used. Even Steve Jobs was a "low-tech parent". His children had never used an iPad in 2010. He deliberately limited his children's computer use, which many other CEOs and employees in Silicon Valley also do. There is no reason why children should already be introduced to digital prowess in schools, since all technology is developed in such a way that it is 'as brain-dead easy to use as possible', they argue. Later in life, children can very easily master these digital qualities. Moreover, these people are more aware than anyone else of all the aforementioned negative consequences of computer use.
The Education Council itself warns against digitisation in education 'purely because it can be done'. It seems that if all the negative effects mentioned above are considered, they do not outweigh the minor positive effects. Surely, then, digitalisation of education is not being pushed 'purely because it can be done'?
In my next column, I will try to find out what kind of data is stored about our children in schools. What happens to that data? Where are they stored? Who has access to it? And do schools comply with the law when it comes to data storage?