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 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessment of digital skills.
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 have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. However, students who use computers very frequently at school do not do as well, 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 similar to the differences in performance in the traditional PISA reading test, despite a vast majority of students using computers whatever their background.
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.
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.
Commenting on the report, Joe Mathewson from Firefly said: "There is absolute truth that the excessive use of technology in schools has a negative effect on performance as IT in itself is not the answer, and it can’t be used to ‘babysit’ students. To have a positive impact, technology needs to enable the teacher to be the superstar by saving them time on admin, and making their interactions with students creative and inspirational.
“One of the main problems is that there is a lot of poor quality technology available and that makes it very hard for schools to make good investments. Most of these solutions are unintuitive, requiring excessive amounts of teacher training, and reducing the amount of time that teachers can spend improving their own pedagogy. There is also an assumption that the current generation of students are all ‘digital natives’ when in fact, edtech needs to be just as accessible for them too."
Reeson Education said of the report: "If used in moderation, technology can be a means to improve a student’s learning experience rather than hinder it. However, excessive use of technology can easily cause it to become a tool for procrastination, which is the least of its disadvantages. The reliance on technology can also prevent learning development, as turning to technology for every query or problem does not develop certain key skills.
“Technology is constantly developing and increasingly used in our daily routines. Students should be taught how to use technology to their benefit and they should also be exposed to the new developments that can complement their learning. Technology and the internet are both a portal to a vast amount of information which can expand a learner’s knowledge on a subject - if used correctly.”
Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in edtech