Access to computers in Irish schools below OECD average

28 Jun 2011

The percentage of students using a computer in Irish schools (62.9pc) is significantly below the OECD average (74.2pc), a new OECD PISA report into online digital literacy has revealed.

Ireland came seventh out of 16 countries for overall digital reading performance. Korea holds the top position.

In terms of the gender difference in digital reading scores between boys and girls, there was a score difference of -31 points (OECD average -24).

Ireland (47.4) was about average in terms of navigation skills (OECD average 46.3) and only slightly above average at 93.2pc in terms of the number of students who had a computer at home (OECD average 92.3pc).

In terms of the difference in digital reading scores between those students who use or do not use a computer at home, Ireland had a difference of 60 points compared to the OECD average of 80 points.

Industry concern about shortage of computers in schools

IBEC has expressed concern at the report’s findings. Tony Donohoe, IBEC head of education policy, said: “Ireland’s ability to remain a leading provider of technology-based goods and services is dependent on digital literacy levels. These figures demonstrate the gap that we have to close.

“On a more positive note, the report indicates that the digital literacy standard of Irish 15-year-olds is slightly above the OECD average. It is still significantly below the performance in the traditional paper-based test in Pisa 2000, but contrasts with the poor performance in the paper-based Pisa test in 2009.

“The report provides ample evidence of the enthusiasm of young people for technology, with 93.2pc of 15-year-olds using a computer at home. It is vital we build on this enthusiasm to bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world. It is crucial that students develop the skills they need to participate fully in today’s modern economy,” Donohoe said.

According to the OECD study, in most countries, students’ results in digital reading were broadly in line with their performance in the PISA 2009 print reading tests. But in Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland and Macao-China, students performed significantly better in digital reading than print, while the opposite was true of students in Poland, Hungary, Chile, Austria, Denmark, Hong-Kong China and Colombia.

“Digital technologies provide a great opportunity to make students more active participants in classroom learning, to tailor learning better to individual students’ needs and to give students access to the world’s current research and thinking,” said Barbara Ischinger, OECD director of education.

Girls performed better than boys in every economy, but the difference was less marked than in print reading: girls scored an average of 24 points more, compared to a difference of 39 points in print, the equivalent to one year of schooling.

Harnessing boys’ relatively strong digital reading performance may be a way to improve their overall reading ability and engagement, said the report.

The survey highlighted wide gaps between the highest and lowest-performing students in some countries. In Hungary, Austria and Belgium, 141, 137 and 133 points separate the top and bottom quarters of the 15-year-old population.

Computer use among 15-year-olds has also risen fast over the past decade. Some 94pc of students in OECD countries who took part in PISA 2009 have at least one computer at home, compared to 72pc in 2000. The increase in access was greater among disadvantaged students (37 percentage points) than among advantaged students (7 percentage points).

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years