Is use of technology harming education?

Reader questions the benefits of technology being used in the classroom.

Dear Editor,

Jordie Dwyer’s article in the Nov. 18 edition of the Ponoka News was a very revealing expose on the lack of academic achievement at Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC). His information gives a clear explanation of the very poor results shown by the Grade 9 students who wrote the Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT). However, further analysis is even more revealing.

I was able to obtain the Grade 9 PAT results for the past five years. In Mathematics 9, the most revealing data is in the number of students who were marked absent or were excused from writing the exam. No doubt, some students may have been absent but the data shows that up to 37.2 per cent of the students did not write the exam in any given year. This obviously skews the test results. The results would have been much lower than reported if all students had written the tests. In 2014/2015, 28 per cent of the students were excused. Why were they excused? When this data is factored in, then only 31 out of the 75 students registered in Math 9 passed the exam. Only four out of the 75 students in Math 9 achieved the excellence level.

Science 9 is not quite as bad but still, many students were marked absent or were excused. In years 2011/2012, 32 out of 121 students did not have a PAT score because they were marked absent or were excused. In 2014/2015 even with seven per cent of the students being excused, only 53 per cent of the students passed the test compared to 82 per cent passing in the rest of Alberta.

In Social Studies 9, the percentage of students who did not register a mark ranged from 17.4 per cent, 31.7 per cent, 17.0 per cent, 17.8 per cent, to 9.3 per cent last year. Even with this number of students missing from the data, only 52.9 per cent of the students passed the PAT last year as compared to 73.1 per cent province wide.

Language Arts did somewhat better but still had a large number of students who did not record a result on the PAT. The percentage of PSC students not registering result ranged from 27.1 per cent, 32.8 per cent, 20 per cent, 17.8 per cent, and last year 10.7 per cent. Sixty per cent of the students who wrote the test actually passed as compared to 75.6 provincially.

Why are these results so low when compared to provincial average? Many would automatically jump to the conclusion that the teachers are not doing an adequate job. This could very well be the cause, but in most cases I feel that there are other explanations.

For the past few years, PSC has been a pilot school for new methods of teaching students. There is a much more open concept/discovery learning approach to the teaching of students. Computer usage now plays a much larger role in this new model. There seems to be a clear relationship between the new methodology and the very bad results on the PATs.

A recent article in the Alberta Teachers Association News reveals that heavy technology use can hinder student performance. The author of the study goes on to state, “Ultimately, we need to have teachers that feel empowered, not pressured, to make the best pedagogical decisions around their particular students’ uses of technology and how much of their instructional time should be dedicated to those activities. This is a cautionary tale for school jurisdictions that have perhaps put too much emphasis on heavy usage of technology and too little on the relationship between teachers, students, and the community.”

Another issue that I feel needs to be addressed is the issue of declaring every second Friday a Professional Development Day. Students are performing very badly on PATs when compared to other schools across the province, and Wolf Creek has chosen to reduce classroom time by one day. To me, this makes absolutely no sense.

In conclusion, I would strongly suggest that if you are a parent who has a student at PSC that you get involved by asking questions that will assist your son or daughter to succeed in their future educational endeavors. Apathy will not bring about positive changes at Ponoka Secondary Campus.

Grant Sharp


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