Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today’s connected world, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of digital skills.
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“Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” says that even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science.
Ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics will do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than solely expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services, says the OECD.
In 2012, 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries reported having a computer at home, but only 72% reported using one at school. Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.
“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”
The report found that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in digital reading was very similar to the differences in performance in the traditional PISA reading test, despite the vast majority of students using computers whatever their background. This suggests that to reduce inequalities in digital skills, countries need to improve equity in education first.
To assess their digital skills, the test required students in 31 countries and economies* to use a keyboard and mouse to navigate texts by using tools like hyperlinks, browser button or scrolling, in order to access information, as well as make a chart from data or use on-screen calculators.
Top performers were Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Canada and Shanghai-China. This reflects closely their performances in the 2012 print-reading test, suggesting that many of the skills essential for online navigation can also be taught and learned using standard, analogue reading techniques.
But the report reveals striking differences. Students in Korea and Singapore perform significantly better online than students in other countries with similar performance in print reading, as do students in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong-China, Japan and the United States. In contrast, students in Poland and Shanghai-China – both strong performers in print reading – do less well transferring their print-reading skills to an online environment.
* Participating countries and economies: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Chinese-Taipei, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hong Kong-China, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macao-China, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Shanghai-China, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and the United States.