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The False Promise of Classroom Technology

Second graders work on Apple iPads as part of their classroom work at Park Lane Elementary school in Sandy, Utah on May 20
Second graders work on Apple iPads as part of their classroom work at Park Lane Elementary school in Sandy, Utah on May 20Photograph by George Frey/Bloomberg

The cover story of Life magazine on Oct. 16 was “U.S. Schools: They Face a Crisis.” Of course, there’s pretty much always a sense of crisis in education—in fact, the Life story dates from 63 years ago: Oct. 16, 1950—and it isn’t limited to the U.S. Two weeks ago, the U.K. announced it would revamp its curriculum and testing for 16-year-olds yet again, on the basis (yet again) that the previous system wasn’t rigorous enough.

Both the American and British school systems could surely do better. The trouble is that the perpetual sense of educational crisis leads to a search for quick fixes—the latest of which is throwing Information Technology at the classroom. That “solution” has a bad record in the West and, if anything, a worse record in the rest of the world—including in countries where schools are truly failing. Computer labs are still no substitute for teachers with the flexibility and incentive to teach backed up by parents with a commitment that their kids learn.