Australia is not where it wants to be in the international benchmarks for reading and numeracy – but if we want to get there, we might have to seriously reconsider a ubiquitous part of modern education: the role of technology in classrooms.
More than 270 teachers, principals and education leaders met at the Education Symposium 2016 in Sydney on Thursday to discuss the direction of education in NSW.
However, an internationally renowned education expert raised eyebrows when he questioned the impact that mobile devices are having in classrooms, not only in Australia but around the world.
Speaking at the event, Professor Pasi Sahlberg, said there is research to suggest that more technology in the classroom may be having a negative impact on learning outcomes.
He predicted a tobacco and big sugar-style marketing war between edutech-company-backed research and independent research in the next five years, saying educators are “not paying attention to the very rapidly increased use of screen technology”.
“The first three PISAs were in 2000, 2003 and 2006, this thing didn't exist. There were no iPads or smartphones,” he said.
“So if you look at kids in Australia, they used a fraction of the time they use today with different types of smartphones and iPads and computer screens compared to the first three.”
He pointed out that the reading performance of Finnish students has been “drastically declining” because of this factor, adding that the only major change in the nation’s teaching practices has been the arrival of mobile devices in classrooms.
“Our pedagogy and teaching has not changed, the curriculum has not changed. So how else can you explain this dramatic change?” he questioned.
Other speakers at the event NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, Department secretary, Mark Scott and executive director of the leadership development organisation Agile Schools, Simon Breakspear.
Sahlberg praised the needs-based Gonski education reforms, saying similar reforms had been proven to work in Finland and other countries. He commended Piccoli as a “great leader” who had significantly improved teaching and learning outcomes as a result of bold reforms.
Laying out his vision for the future of the NSW education system, Piccoli said the state education system’s “world class” status was largely due to its willingness “to take hard and sometimes unpopular decisions, because they were right”.
“Five years ago, we began a comprehensive education reform here in NSW – and there is lot we can be proud of,” he said.
“We’re implementing evidence-based education reforms, we’re seeing additional resources flowing to where they’re needed the most, and we’re seeing real sustained change in our schools.”
Piccoli pointed to the importance of the “sector-blind” Gonski funding agreement, which he said was having a real impact in schools across the three sectors.
“I remind my friends in Canberra again: every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, the income of their family or the school they attend,” he said.
“We have led sustained cross-sectoral intervention to highlight the importance of literacy and numeracy, beginning with early intervention for struggling students in Kindergarten to Year 2.
“And it’s working – I’ve seen great results in an independent Hari Krishna school on the north coast, St James Catholic School in Muswellbrook and Hillvue Public School in Tamworth, just to name a few examples across the three sectors.”
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