What makes the average student average

Study on digital competence
German students only average

An international comparative study on digital skills only attests to German young people's average skills. The government wants to equip schools better and adapt curricula. But is that enough?

In an increasingly digitized society, schools should teach adolescents how to use new technologies competently and critically. At least that's what it says in the introduction to the study International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), which was published in autumn 2014. Since then, it has sparked some debates in Germany. Because so far the German education system has contributed little to the educational goals defined by the study.

ICILS compares computer and information-related competencies of twelve- and thirteen-year-old students in 21 educational systems worldwide. What is meant are skills that allow “to use computers and new technologies to research, design and communicate information and to evaluate it in order to successfully participate in life in the home environment, in school, at work and in society”.

Great skepticism from the teachers

In Germany, according to the results of the study, digital skills in this form are not available in almost 30 percent of adolescents. "These are students who have such minimal or rudimentary knowledge of how to deal with new technologies and digital information competently that one has to assume that they will have major problems in the future," says school researcher Birgit Eickelmann from the University of Paderborn. Together with Wilfried Bos, professor at the Institute for School Development Research at the Technical University of Dortmund, she led the ICILS study. For Eickelmann, the situation is quite comparable with the results of the first international school performance survey PISA in December 2001. At that time, many German students were certified as having below-average knowledge of mathematics. “That was almost 25 percent. When it comes to digital skills, we're at 30 percent. So the situation is actually even more dramatic. "

Why is that? ICILS also provides information on this. The majority of schools in Germany are currently not in a position to support students in the field of digital education. On the one hand, this is due to the inadequate equipment of the schools in international comparison: stable broadband internet is rare, as is technical support on site. Added to this is the great skepticism of teachers about new, digital learning concepts. “Up to now there is hardly any idea in Germany of how new technologies can be used meaningfully in the classroom. Instead, the teachers' fears predominate that students would be distracted from the actual learning content, ”says Birgit Eickelmann. "As far as the use of new technologies in schools is concerned, we are in last place internationally."

Debate about opportunities and risks

This skepticism also seems to be fed by a peculiarity of the German approach to the topic of digital education. In hardly any other country are the possible risks of digital technology more in the public eye. This is what the authors Gerald Lembke and Ingo Leipner write in their book The lie of digital educationthat children are only able to use computers, laptops and smartphones productively at the age of twelve. Before that, dealing with digital technology leads to overstimulation.

The proponents, on the other hand, like to refer to a whole series of successful projects in which new technologies are already being used in schools, for example in so-called MINT excellence schools that place a special focus on natural science subjects "Here we are in some cases already very well positioned" , says Birgit Eickelmann. Education journalist Christian Füller is also fundamentally convinced of the added value of digital learning, especially when it comes to collaborative work, for example in the context of school blogs. “The positive, motivating effect is really amazing.” However, he finds it just as important to also consider risks. In addition to the risk of media diversion, these include mobbing and digital exhibitionism. His demand: "We need a compulsory network traffic driver's license in which young people learn how to navigate the Internet safely."

Interdisciplinary key competence

In July 2015, the German Bundestag passed a motion to connect schools to the broadband network and to create a “secure digital learning environment”. One would also like to establish the topic of digital education more firmly in the curriculum, for example in the form of a new compulsory subject in computer science.

For the education researcher Eickelmann, the initiative is praiseworthy on the one hand: "We have to equip our schools better." On the other hand, she also emphasizes that in the end it is about much more than providing the schools with laptops, tablets and a fast internet connection . "It is much more important to train teachers in this area so that they know how to use the devices sensibly." In the end, the decisive factor is not only improved technical equipment but also the willingness to deal with digital information as a to develop an interdisciplinary key competence, says Eickelmann.

The education researcher and publicist Martin Lindner puts it this way: We should say goodbye to the idea that digital media are "tools" that are either specifically and temporarily used or not. “In reality, they have long been part of the world we live in. Digital learning simply means learning under the conditions of a digitized society. It is inevitable. "