Irish teens among best at using internet

OECD ranks Irish 15-year-olds sixth out of 32 states for ‘navigation proficiency’

Just 3.4 per cent of Irish teenagers use the internet for more than six hours during a typical weekday

Just 3.4 per cent of Irish teenagers use the internet for more than six hours during a typical weekday


Irish teenagers are among the most savvy in the world in navigating the internet, even though they have less screen time than the European norm, according to an international report, Students, Computers and Learning.

The OECD study ranked Irish 15-year-olds sixth best in “navigation proficiency” out of 32 countries, suggesting that there was greater awareness here of the dangers of excessive use of the internet.

Just 3.4 per cent of Irish teenagers were said to use the internet for more than six hours during a typical weekday, compared to an OECD average of 7.2 per cent and a rate in Sweden of 13.2 per cent.

The data is drawn from the OECD’s 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests, combined with related surveys on technology spending and use of computers in education.

Tests on students’ navigational abilities in “think, then click” exercises indicated a low rate of “unfocused browsing activity” in Ireland (9 per cent), compared with more than 20 per cent among Chinese students surveyed.

“On average, students in Singapore, followed by students in Australia, Korea, Canada, the United States and Ireland, rank highest for the average quality of their browsing.”

Maths concern

A note of concern was expressed about Ireland’s performance in the Pisa computer-based maths test, with a 15th-placed ranking out of 32 countries. Among the same group of countries, Ireland had the fifth lowest rate of computer use for maths lessons in the classroom.

However, looking across the OECD as a whole, the report says it is unclear whether students benefit from using technology to work through problems. “Irrespective of the specific tasks involved, students who do not use computers in mathematics lessons perform better in mathematics assessments than students who do use computers in their mathematics lesson, after accounting for differences in socioeconomic status.

“There are, however, exceptions to this negative relationship”, notably in Belgium, Denmark and Norway.

The report also raises concerns about a “digital divide” between well-off and disadvantaged students, although it says Ireland is close to the OECD average in terms of access. Almost 95 per cent of disadvantaged students have internet access at home, and at weekends they use it on average for 95 minutes, compared with 100 minutes for “advantaged” students.

There are, however, significant differences in literacy and numeracy test scores in Ireland between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Disappointing finding

Alluding to similar findings in other countries, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills, said: “Perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

“Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services.”

Addressing the headline finding that access to computers does not help test scores, he says: “One interpretation of all this is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology sometimes distracts from this valuable human engagement.

“Another interpretation is that we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology . . . Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”