OECD releases results from first international assessment of digital reading competencies

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    OECD releases results from first international assessment of digital reading competencies

    While the quality of online education is a subject of intense debate among educators, parents and students alike, what is no longer open to debate is the need for digital literacy. Are our children well-prepared to enter this technology-rich world? Not all do as well as you might expect from a crop of “digital natives”. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) [www.pisa.oecd.org] finds that, on average among 15-year-olds who have grown up in a “wired” world, 17% have serious difficulties navigating through the digital environment—which means that these students may find it difficult completing their studies and, later on, looking and applying for work, filling out forms to pay their taxes or even reserving a seat on a train. And in some countries these percentages are much larger.

    This first assessment of students’ digital reading competencies shows other important results. For example, in each of the 19 countries that participated, the more frequently students search for information on line, the better their performance in digital reading. But this only works up to a point: For example, students who use computers at home regularly for leisure or schoolwork score higher in the digital reading assessment than both rare and intensive users.


    After accounting for students’ academic abilities, the frequency of computer use at home, particularly for leisure activities, is positively associated with students’ ability to “navigate” among pages on the Internet, while the frequency of computer use at school is not. This finding suggests that students learn digital navigation skills by themselves, simply by exploring the nearly infinite offerings on the Internet.


    PISA also finds that the gender gap in reading performance is narrower in digital reading than it is in print reading. Across all participating countries in the digital reading assessment, girls outperform boys by an average of 24 score points in digital reading, while the difference in print reading is 38 score points—the equivalent of one year of formal schooling. These findings suggest that boys may be more interested in reading texts that are available to them on the Internet than in reading material that is conventionally consumed in print form, such as novels and non-fiction books. Educators can use this finding as a basis for new strategies aimed at encouraging boys to read more and, ultimately, to become more enthusiastic and proficient readers.

    Across the OECD countries that participated in both the PISA 2000 and 2009 surveys, the percentage of students who reported having at least one computer at home increased from 72% in 2000 to 94% in 2009, while home access to the Internet doubled from 45% to 89% during the same period. There was also an increase in the computer-to-student ratio in schools—evidence that education systems invested substantially in information and communication technologies during the past decade.


    The so-called “digital divide” used to be about access to computers. Today, there’s a second divide: between those people who are lost in the digital environment and those who have the skills to navigate efficiently and effectively through all the information now available to them through digital technologies. It is up to us-concerned policy makers, educators and parents-to ensure that our children are not left behind on the analog side of the digital divide. It is no overstatement to suggest that their futures depend on it. In many countries, schools can do more to prepare students for this, not just by providing opportunities for students to solve problems using digital technologies, but also by fostering reading methods that improve students’ ability to better distinguish between relevant and irrelevant material, and to structure, prioritise, distil and summarise written information. By using digital technologies effectively, schools can enable students to obtain more regular feedback on their learning processes, make students more active participants in learning processes in classrooms and tailor these processes to individual students’ needs. And they can provide students with up-to-date access to the world’s current research and thinking.


    Find the full report PISA 2009 Results: Students On Line: Digital Technologies and Performance at the end of the embargo at www.pisa.oecd.org


    Read the Blogs:
    Navigating their way into the future

    - Reading, the second digital divide