Internet use in schools

The latest ICT in Schools Report (PDF)from the 2020 Trust has just been released and confirms the pattern that has been emerging over previous years. According to this report, 100% of all our schools now have access to the internet, with computer to student ratios of 1:5 in our primary schools and 1:4 in secondary.

A recent Pew Internet report titled The Internet at School reports a very similar picture in the American context, but notes:

    “While these figures suggest greater internet penetration and use in schools, they also show that 32% of all teens do not use the internet at school at all, despite the fact that 99% of all public schools now have access to the internet.”

If this is the case then, the focus must surely now be on how these technologies are being used. It isn’t enough to satisfy ourselves with having achieved such high levels of access – that doesn’t guarantee effective use, or even any use at all!

According to the NZ report, over 70% of all Principals now agree that ICTs have made major improvements in curriculum delivery in their schools. This figure has jumped from just over 60% in 2003 and around 45% in 2001. This is encouraging, but needs to be explored further to understand on what basis these observations are being reported – what is the evidence?

Earlier this year the Pew Internet Organisation published a report titled The Digital Disconnect (PDF file) which reports on the widening gap between internet-savvy students and their schools. The report identifies the single greatest barrier to Internet use at school is the quality of access to the Internet.

The report notes that, while the schools may well be connected to the internet, student use of that is inhibited by restrictions on time of day or location of the internet-capable computers. High levels of control exercised through filtering, software blocks and surveillance systems also acted as deterrants.

In their interviews the researchers found that students could relate examples of both engaging and poor instructional uses of the Internet assigned by their teachers – however, it was the not-so-engaging examples that were more typically reported.

A couple of the summary statements from students in the report resonated with me in terms of our school and national level policy debates about eLearning:

  1. students want better coordination of their out-of-school educational use fo the internet with classroom activities. They argue that this could be the key to leveraging the power of the Internet for learning;
  2. students insist that policy makers take the “digital divide” seriously and that they begin to understand the more subtle inequities among teenagers that manifest themselves in differences in the quality of student Internet access and use.

A paragraph from the final page of the report is worth reflecting on:

    Students themselves are changing because of their use of and reliance on the Internet. They are coming to school with different expectations, different skills, and different resources. In fact, our most Internet-savvy students told us that their schools, teachers and peers are at times frustratingly illiterate, na??ve, and even afraid of the online world. Indeed, students who rely on the Internet for school??who cannot conceive of not using it for their schoolwork?? may ultimately force schools to change to better accommodate them. According to the students with whom we spoke, many schools have yet to react or even to recognize the changes in the ways that Internet-savvy students communicate and access information.

This, then, is our challenge – having equipped our schools with the technology, our quest must be “how can we close the gap between the expectations of our students and what we actually provide for them in our schools?”

Leave a Reply