Tech in Schools: Harmful or Helpful?

Advocates for digital devices in classrooms said that ample evidence supports the wide use of technology.

04.30.24
Tech in Schools: Harmful or Helpful? (Getty Images)

San FranciscoA National Center for Education Statistics survey revealed that 98% of schools use computers in the classroom and 75% of the national education market already uses iPads and Chromebooks. Roughly 57% of students use digital learning tools every day and spend at least 50% of their classroom time engaging with a device.

Advocates for digital devices in classrooms said that ample evidence supports the wide use of technology. They said technology increases engagement, and creativity, and gives students access to a wealth of learning material. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study found that four-year-old children playing age-appropriate educational games on a touch-screen showed higher gains in literacy and mathematics. Supporters said these activities teach lifelong digital literacy skills that are essential for success in today’s tech culture.

Fifteen-year-old Cloe Walker, who attends  Lowell High School, in San Francisco found tech in school helps with her classes. 

“Computers are necessary at school. I use my computer in almost every class; for notes in AP World History, for simulating scientific models in Chemistry, I use the calculator app in math,” the 10th grader said.  “My success in these classes relies on my ability to use a computer for various purposes.”

But some say the use of technology has gone too far. A letter from a California School district cited a national survey that found two-thirds of K-12 teachers said technology has negatively impacted 75% of their students by decreasing their ability to focus on educational tasks. Studies by the National Center for Biotechnology Information show that high school and college students spend up to 20% of their classroom time texting, emailing, surfing the web, checking social media, and even playing games. Spending this much time on screens has serious repercussions. In a study of children aged 8 to 12 years, more screen and less reading time were associated with decreased brain connectivity between regions controlling word recognition, as well as language and cognitive control. 

Having devices in class specifically impacts kids with learning disorders. Professional Counselor Kathleen Smith at the The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family said “Children with ADHD are more likely to engage in compulsive video game use. Children play more games on screens because they already have symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention and hyper-focus. Another study found that children who play phone games were at increased risk for ADHD.”

Rising ninth grader Trent Lee,*  who attends Galileo High School in San Francisco, 

was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and said having devices has been a challenge. 

“When I can’t focus on what’s going on with class, I feel so tempted to just open my computer and start gaming,” the 14-year-old said. “It’s hard enough for me to focus in class with my ADHD, but having access to a device makes it that much harder.”

One solution used by many school districts is putting restrictions on school computers. The Guardian reported that some school districts have given teachers the ability to “hijack” students' computers and intervene with what they are doing. Other schools such as the San Francisco Unified School District give special computers that automatically block most games and other non-school-related websites. 

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons. 

Leah Mordehai (she/her) is from San Francisco and is a local youth journalist. 

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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