Giving all students a baseline literacy in digital reading and mathematics will do more good than simply providing access to high-tech devices in schools, according to the OECD’s new digital literacy study (see full report below).

Students with limited access to computers performed better in the OECD’s PISA tests than those without any access at all, according to the results released last week. However, students scored worse in tests if they used computers very frequently, even after accounting for demographics and social background.

“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.

Singaporean students are the most digitally literate, according to the study of 31 countries and cities by the OECD. They are followed by students from Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and Shanghai in the rankings.

“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,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills.

Schools and education ministries need to ensure both students and teachers have digital skills. They have to locate high-quality digital learning resources “from among a plethora of poor-quality ones”, the OECD said.

ICT is linked to better student performance only in certain contexts, such as when computer software and internet connections help to increase study time and practice, the OECD said. Teachers need to have clear learning goals of using technology and have to blend the technology into their lessons and curricula, it recommends.

“If these challenges are not addressed as part of the technology plans of schools and education ministries, technology may do more harm than good to the teacher student interactions that underpin deep conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking,” the OECD said.

Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection