As COVID-19 rampaged across the world in 2020 and widespread lockdowns swept across the nation, many of the country’s classrooms moved online to continue to educate the nation’s youth during a time of distress. Pencils, papers and textbooks were replaced with computers, phones and Zoom. However, now that the pandemic wave has subsided and students have begun to return to in-person classrooms, it seems that online classes are here to stay. While some celebrate the effectiveness of a technology-driven education system, Americans should take a long pause and think about how technology has changed education.
It is undoubtedly true that technology has brought large benefits to the education field such as increased accessibility through providing opportunities to learners with disabilities. It also played a vital role during the pandemic by allowing continued education for over one billion students facing lockdown measures. However, now that the pandemic is mostly over, there is a serious case to be made that the overreliance on technology is no longer beneficial to education.
In UNESCO’s new 2023 report on technology in education, studies found little evidence that digital technology adds any tangible value to education or learning. The drawbacks to using digital technology, on the other hand, are immense. While more available than in-person classrooms, access to the internet and a computer pose other substantial inequality issues. In 2020, only about 83% of households with an income below $25,000 had computer or internet access needed for schooling compared to 98% of households with an income of $150,000 or more. This places students in low-income households at a greater disadvantage when it comes to their education, especially given that this group is already statistically more likely to miss class or drop out.
Throughout the pandemic and even more so in the time since then, our school systems have been spending millions on acquiring new computers, apps and other technologies to further education. Yet these spending measures have not benefited students. The UNESCO report found that in Peru, the free distribution of a million new laptops did not benefit learning in any significant way. It found that even within the U.S., the learning gap widened during periods of remote learning. This type of spending could be much better used elsewhere. Instead of spending large sums of money purchasing a computer for every student or on “educational” apps that no student will use, funding is much better spent on increasing teacher wages and rebuilding old buildings.
The final issue with technology in the classroom is the over-proliferation of social media and phones in our schools. As more and more technology enters the classroom, the sight of a phone in the classroom is also becoming more common. It is clear that these phones bring little benefit and are more of a distraction. In many schools, social media has exacerbated the issue of bullying with many kids filming videos of their bullying behaviors and posting them to sites like TikTok or Instagram. While students become more and more attached to their screens, it is also more likely that they get exposed to harmful materials. With the rise of fake news and deep fake artificial intelligence, information online is becoming less trustworthy. Students exposed to this information at a young age could lack the necessary skills to distinguish truth from lies. The spread of hate speech and other harmful content on the internet is also worrying if presented to young minds. A significant example of this is the rapid rise of the “influencer,” like Andrew Tate and his seemingly large following among young students. Outbursts against fellow female teachers and students — incidents that mirror Tate’s rhetoric — show how impressionable young students really are and that the overreliance on technology is only exacerbating the social media crisis among students.
After the pandemic, this new technology craze among schools has proven to be detrimental to students everywhere in the nation. Not only does technology bring no tangible gains in learning, it is a hindrance to revitalizing our nation’s education system. It exacerbates the already widening inequality gaps within our school systems, leaving low-income families struggling to keep up. It is diverting large amounts of sorely needed funding to other areas for newly-developed apps that show no promise. This technology craze is also bringing out the worst of social media use in young people. Thus, it is necessary for all of us — as students, teachers and administrators — to take a pause and truly examine the use of technology in education and if the benefits really outweigh the positives of such a development.