Digital lessons? Public opinions on the use of digital technologies in Australian schools

22 Jan 2019

The past ten years have seen digital technologies become an integral part of Australian education. Digital devices are now commonplace in even the smallest schools. Lessons are live-streamed, digitised resources are shared through content management systems, and communications conducted through various online channels. In comparison to the beginning of the decade, today’s schools are dependent upon substantial amounts of digital technology.

However, the use of digital technology in education remains a hotly contested topic. Software vendors and EdTech enthusiasts continue to make claims about the capacity of new technologies to transform classroom processes. At the same time, many other people contend that the impact of technology on teaching and learning remains largely unproven. The OECD’s Director of Education, Andreas Schleicher, suggested in 2015 that information and communications technologies have a negligible impact on classrooms. While prompting considerable controversy, Schleicher was voicing a long-held frustration amongst many teachers and school leaders over the inconsistent showing of technology in education.

As we enter the 2020s, the topic of digital technology in schools is becoming a matter of increasing public and political concern. It is no longer the case that people are blithely optimistic about everything ‘cyber’ and ‘virtual’. Instead, parents, policymakers and education professionals are beginning to push back against some aspects of digital technology. News stories highlight parental opposition to requirements to purchase $1000 laptops for their children. Politicians are making well-received calls to ban smartphones from schools. Teaching unions are challenging the influence that ‘Big Tech’ companies such as Google have over public schooling. While few people are demanding a complete return to pre-digital forms of schooling, there is emerging disquiet over some aspects of the ongoing digitisation of our schools.

This report presents one of the first accounts of public opinion in Australia regarding digital technology and schools. Based on a nationally-representative survey of 2052 adults, the report addresses the following questions:

  • What public support is there for the current levels of digital technology use in Australian public schools?
  • What public support is there for increased use of digital technology in Australian public schools?
  • Is school perceived to play an important role in developing students’ technology skills?
  • Is the current generation of teachers considered tech savvy enough to make effective use of digital technology?
  • Does the Australian public trust the leading involvement of ‘Big Tech’ companies in leading schools’ technology use?
  • What public support is there for banning mobile phones in school?
  • Is the use of technology in schools seen as a good use of government funding?

The report also offers some initial insights into public reactions toward emerging technologies that are likely to enter Australian schools throughout the 2020s.

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