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4/23/2013
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European Students Need Better Tech Training, Study Says

IT is distributed unevenly across schools, with 20% of secondary students never using computers for school work, reports European Commission.

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More evidence is accumulating that Europe has some big questions to answer when it comes to introducing IT properly to its millions of schoolchildren.

Thus only 25% of European nine-year-olds attend a school with up-to-date information and communications technology (ICT) equipment, broadband of 10 Mbps or higher and reasonable levels of connectivity -- e.g., email for students and teachers, any kind of virtual learning environments, local networks and so on, according to a European Commission study.

While 50% of 16-year-olds had access to these tools, 20% of students at European secondary school level (age 11 and older) have literally never used a computer as part of a school lesson, according to the study.

That means that, although European students and teachers are keen to engage with digital revolution, said the EC, use of both ICT and digital skill levels are spread in too "uneven" fashion across the continent.

[ What are the best ways for schools to use IT? Read What Education Tech Success Stories Share. ]

The results are seen as a warning sign by at least some politicians. "Europe will only resume sustained growth by producing highly skilled ICT graduates and workers who can contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship," said Androulla Vassiliou, European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth. "We need to invest more in the development and use of ICTs in schools."

The data is from the third iteration of research on ICT in schools. The current survey (updated from 2005's version) was carried out between January 2011 and November 2012, but for four countries -- Germany, Iceland, The Netherlands and the U.K. -- the response rate was "too low to be able to make reliable conclusions," therefore findings are based on more than 190,000 responses from the remaining 27 countries.

The study reports that ICT equipment in schools has doubled since 2006, mainly due to an influx of laptops, tablets and netbooks, which are replacing desktops in many institutions. However, it's not evenly distributed across all 27 member states.

The Scandinavian and Nordic countries are at the top of the pyramid in terms of IT resources, while countries in the Eastern (Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia) and Southern (Italy, Greece) chunks of the continent lag. However, the report said, "lack of equipment does not mean lack of interest." Some countries with the highest use of computer equipment are the ones with the lowest scores on equipment provision -- Bulgaria, Slovakia, Cyprus and Hungary.

In response to the report, Neelie Kroes, the EU's Digital Agenda commissioner, tweeted, "ICT skills and training must be available to all students and teachers -- not just a lucky few. We want our young people exposed to ICT in school from the very beginning, and we want teachers who are confident to share their knowledge."

Her last remark speaks to the fact that technology training for European teachers seems to be mainly an ad hoc, spare time activity, with very few countries mandating this for admission to the profession, for example.

The report advises Europe to make changes at both the policy (educational qualification) and training delivery levels. So, it suggests, the EC could boost teacher competence across Europe via better coordination of teaching certification structures in different nations, plus regularly monitor progress in the use of digital technologies and digital competence in the classroom.

And on the delivery side, the report says, more could be done to offer online training to all these struggling educators. "An integrated approach to ICT teaching in schools is needed, meaning not only investment in infrastructure but also greater investment in teachers' training, rewards for teachers using ICT in the classroom, and the creation of ICT coordinator posts," concludes the report.

Can data analysis keep students on track and improve college retention rates? Also in the premiere all-digital Analytics' Big Test issue of InformationWeek Education: Higher education is just as prone to tech-based disruption as other industries. (Free with registration.)

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