New approach needed to tackle digital skills divide in schools, says report


Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom and a new approach is needed, according to an international report.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said more needs to be done to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today's connected world.

The report - 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 Programme for International Student Assessment (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, the OECD said.

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.

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 to use a keyboard and mouse to navigate texts by using tools such as 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 to 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 digital skills test was an optional one in addition to the main PISA 2012 test and the UK did not choose to take part, an OECD spokesman said.

But the UK did complete some details in a questionnaire about how often students use technology at home and in the classroom.

In 2012, schools in the UK had about one school computer available for every 15-year-old student.

The students-per-computer ratio of 1.4-to-1 is the 3rd lowest among the OECD countries. But in general, countries that have invested heavily in ICT for education have seen no appreciable improvement in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science over the past 10 years.

In 2012, 51% of students in the UK reported that they had three or more computers at home. This is 10 percentage points more than in 2009.

Socio-economic disparities in basic access to computers and the internet are small and decreasing in the UK.

In 2012, 97% of disadvantaged students - those among the bottom 25% in socio-economic status - had access to the internet at home.

And schools with the highest percentage of disadvantaged students had ICT resources comparable to schools serving more advantaged students.

In 2012 in Ireland, 36% of students reported that they had three or more computers at home - below the OECD average of 42.9%.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "Used properly, technology can have an important place in the classroom and plays a vital role in preparing young people for a fast-changing world.

"We want all schools to consider the needs of their pupils to determine how technology can complement the foundations of good teaching and a rigorous curriculum, so that every pupil is able to achieve their potential."