Millions of pounds worth of technology is “languishing unused” in school cupboards because teachers are being duped into buying the latest gadgets, according to research.

Schools are spending more than £450 million a year on tablet computers, education games and electronic whiteboards with little or no evidence that they benefit children’s education, it was claimed.

Researchers warned that teachers were increased pulled in by the “hype and lure of digital education” without properly considering how to use the technology.

In some cases, schools are employing “shiny new devices” as a straight replacement for traditional books or pen and paper exercises – instead of using them to properly enhance pupils’ skills.

Many other schools are allowing millions of pounds worth of kit to “languish unused or underused in school cupboards”, researchers found.

The conclusion – in a report by Nesta, a charity set up to support innovation – comes despite concerns over cutbacks to school budgets during the economic downturn.

Geoff Mulgan, the charity’s chief executive, said: “A tablet replacing an exercise book is not innovation – it’s just a different way to make notes. There’s incredible potential for digital technology in and beyond the classroom, but as in other fields, from healthcare to retail, it is vital to rethink how learning is organised if we’re to reap the rewards.

“The danger is that the technology of the 21st century is being applied using teaching methods of the 20th. The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware – rather than how it’s to be used.”

The study was based on an analysis of more than 1,000 research papers drawn up into the use of technology in education.

Researchers suggested that schools across Britain collectively spent more than £1.4bn on the latest gadgets in the last three years alone.

But the study warned that there was “little tangible impact” on pupils’ education as technology was often “imported into classrooms without the necessary changes to teacher practice and school organisation to support them”.

It quoted examples of an “over-abundance of apps and games that sugar-coat dull, unchallenging practice activities, like repetitive arithmetic quizzes”.

The report – entitled “Decoding Learning” – also warned that tablet computers were being handed to pupils with no training in how to use them.

“Tablet computers offer a window to vast swathes of information, but so does a traditional library,” it said. “To use either effectively, a children needs structured teaching to help turn information into knowledge.

“Instead of fetishising the latest kit, focusing on effective learning activities can help us make better use of what we’ve got.”

The study highlighted a number of ways in which technology could be used to boost pupils’ education.

This included the use of a robotics kit for secondary schools that enables pupils to attach lights, sensors and motors to a customised control board – and then programme their machines using a simple app.

In another example, pupils were able to use powerful sound equipment and specially-positioned digital equipment to simulate an earthquake in a geography class.


By Graeme Paton

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