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Surveying ICT use in education in Europe

Michael Trucano's picture

igniting new approaches to learning with technologyOne consistent theme that I hear quite often from policymakers with an interest in, and/or responsibility for, the use of ICTs in their country's education system is that they want to 'learn from the best'. Often times, 'best' is used in ways that are synonymous with 'most advanced', and 'most advanced' essentially is meant to describe places that have 'lots of technology'. Conventional wisdom in many other parts of the world holds that, if you want to 'learn from the best', you would do well to look at what is happening in places like the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Singapore. (Great internal 'digital divides' of various sorts persist within some of these places, of course, but such inconvenient truths challenge generalizations of these sorts in ways that are, well, inconvenient.) Policymakers 'in the know' broaden their frame of reference a bit, taking in a wider set of countries, like those in Scandinavia, as well as some middle income countries like Malaysia and Uruguay that also have 'lots of technology' in their schools. Whether or not these are indeed the 'best' places to look for salient examples of relevance to the particular contexts at hand in other countries is of course a matter of some debate (and indeed, the concept of 'best' is highly problematic -- although that of 'worst' is perhaps less so), there is no question that these aren't the only countries with lots of ICTs in place (if not always in use) in their education systems.

What do we know about what is happening across Europe
related to the use of ICTs in schools?

The recently released Survey of Schools: ICT in Education Benchmarking Access, Use and Attitudes to Technology in Europe’s Schools provides a treasure trove of data for those seeking answers to this question. Produced by the European Schoolnet in partnership with the University of Liège in Belgium, with funding from the European Commission, the publication features results from the first Europe-wide survey of this sort across the continent in six years:


 
Survey of Schools: ICT in Education
Benchmarking Access, Usa and Attitudes to Technology in Europe's Schools


Final Study Report
February 2013

Based on over 190,000 responses from students, teachers and head teachers collected and analysed during the school year 2011-12, the Survey of Schools: ICT in Education provides detailed, up-to-date and reliable benchmarking of Information and Communication Technologies in school level education across Europe, painting a picture of educational technology in schools: from infrastructure provision to use, confidence and attitudes.

The Survey was commissioned in 2011 by the European Commission to benchmark access, use and attitudes to ICT in schools in 31 countries (EU27, Croatia, Iceland, Norway and Turkey).

It is the first Europe-wide exercise of this type for six years, following the eEurope 2002 and eEurope 2005 surveys. It is the first to be conducted online and the first to include students directly. Work on the survey took place between January 2011 and November 2012, with data collection in autumn 2011.

In four countries (Germany, Iceland, Netherlands and the United Kingdom) the response rate was insufficient, making reliable analysis of the data impossible; therefore the findings in this report are based on data from 27 countries.

Downloads:

  • download the entire report, as well as country reports, through this page
  • download the data sets, technical reports, survey questionnaires and codebooks through this page (scroll down to the section called "ESSIE SURVEY about ICT in Education")

If you're looking for a graph or bar chart describing some aspect of ICT use in European schools, this new publication will most likely be your go-to resource for many years to come! The PDf file for the 163-page main report (which also contains the individual country reports) weighs in at a whopping 17.23 MB -- a file size due in no small part to the fact that it features 274 graphs and charts (almost all of them are bar charts -- pie chart devotees may be disappointed -- and one shouldn't be too surprised to see some of these reproduced in hundreds, if not thousands, of PowerPoint presentations in the coming years). All of the materials produced as part of the survey process, including the data sets themselves, and the questionnaires used to help build them, are available for free download. For those engaged in survey activities related to ICT use in education at the national, sub-national or international level, this work should be considered required reading. Its conceptual framework, methodology, key questions, definitions and indicators are laid out clearly. If you don't want to read the entire report yourself and are having trouble downloading the entire document so that you can just skim its executive summary, you may wish instead to read a related overview article that was recently published in a March 2013 special edition of the European Journal of Education.

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OK, that's what the report is. But what does it actually say? Here are six of the major findings from the report:

  1. Infrastructure provision at school level varies considerably between countries; lack of it is still an obstacle to greater use of ICT in schools.
     
  2. Use of ICT, as measured in the surveys, may not have risen as much as might have been expected.
     
  3. There is no overall relationship between high levels of ICT provision and student and teacher confidence, use and attitudes.
     
  4. The policy focus should be on effective learning management as much as on ICT provision.
     
  5. There is high, but not universal, use of ICT at home.
     
  6. The presence of virtual learning environments [i.e. 'learning platforms'] in schools is increasing rapidly.

and five related recommended policy actions:

  1. Strengthen public action at institutional, local, regional, national and European levels to boost ICT use at school so as to reduce the gap between ICT use out and within school.
     
  2. Increasing professional development opportunities for teachers is an efficient way of boosting ICT use in teaching and learning since it helps build highly confident and positive teachers.
     
  3. Despite having access and positive attitudes towards implementing ICT into their teaching and learning, teachers often find this difficult and require on-going support - not only technical but also pedagogical.
     
  4. Harness high levels of use of personally-owned mobile phones. ("What is clear", the report finds, "is that students are serious about the capacity of their mobile to support their learning.")
     
  5. Use the dataset and lessons learnt from this survey for future investigations.

ask us how we're using ICTs

There is much to take away from the data and analysis in this publication, which will no doubt spawn much additional analysis by academics and policymakers and help inform future research. For what it's worth, and with minimal editorial comment, here is a (somewhat idiosyncratic) list of 20 things (it's a big report!) that struck me during my first quick reading:

  1. "There are now around twice as many computers per 100 students in secondary schools as compared with 2006 - but the wide variations between countries reported in 2006 persist."
     
  2. The student:computer ratio is between 3:1 to 7:1 across Europe, with (not surprisingly) lower ratios for older students. About 2/3 of computers are located in computer labs.
     
  3. "There is a trend towards smaller and portable computers, away from desktop computers in 2006 to laptops and personally owned devices such as mobile phones in 2011."
     
  4. "Laptops and interactive whiteboards are now extensively in place unlike in 2006." The rise, and indeed centrality to the ICT ecosystem in European schools, of interactive whiteboards -- a product that largely didn't exist in European schools a decade ago when the first large scale rollouts began in the UK -- is quite stunning.  The report notes that "insufficient numbers of these are seen as a very important barrier to ICT use by teachers themselves in many countries".
     
  5. Few e-readers, mobile phones and digital cameras are seen to be in use.  [Of course, a good many European students, especially older ones,  carry such things with them in the form of a single device.]
     
  6. "Broadband is now almost ubiquitous in schools, while in 2006 this was in place in less than three-quarters of schools."
     
  7. The report defines a highly digitally equipped school as one with "relatively high equipment levels, fast broadband (10mbps or more) and high ‘connectedness’ (e.g. having a website, email, a virtual learning environment and a local area network)."
     
  8. Generally speaking, while there is lots of technology in European schools [especially when viewed in a global perspective], a lack of technology is still see as an "important issue". [This begs the question: How much technology is 'sufficient? Might it be true that, the more you have, the more you want -- and feel you need?]
     
  9. Across Europe, there are "wide variations in the degree of use of the ICT equipment available". Interestingly, the report finds "no correlation at EU level between level of computer provision in schools and frequency of use by students."
     
  10. About 20% of European students in grade eight "report never/almost never using ICT". The highest percentage (31%) of students in this category is in ... Finland [home, of course, to one of the world's leading high tech companies -- Nokia -- and a consistent top performer in international assessments like PISA].
     
  11. "Interestingly, no overall relationship was found between high levels of infrastructure provision and student and teacher use, confidence and attitudes."
     
  12. "At EU level, no significant correlation is observed between students from low-income background and any of the three obstacles" [identified by school heads as the most critical]. Correlations are observed at the country level, however.
     
  13. School heads are "close to unanimity about the fact that ICT use is essential to prepare students to live and work in the 21st century."
     
  14. Students aren't using ICTs much for learning in school ... but are doing so much more outside of school. "Students’ ICT use during lessons still lags far behind their use of ICT out of school, affecting their confidence in their digital competences."
     
  15. Teachers use technology ... primarily to prepare for class (and not in class itself).
     
  16. "Teachers’ confidence and opinions about ICT use for T&L [teaching and learning] affect the frequency of students’ ICT use for learning."
     
  17. "Teachers’ confidence in using ICT can be as crucial as their technical competence." A number of key recommendations from the report revolve around building capacity for "ICT pedagogical expertise at school level" through supporting things like providing more opportunities for teacher professional development, as well as more technical and pedagogical [!] support for teachers related to ICT use. "Boosting teacher professional development makes a difference," the report states, "and appears to be a condition for an effective and efficient use of the available infrastructure."
     
  18. "Developing specific policies to use ICT in T&L [teaching and learning] and implementing concrete support measures at school level affect the frequency of students’ ICT based activities for learning in the classroom."
     
  19. More generally, the report finds that "the need for specific policies and actions substantially to increase ICT use in T&L [teaching and learning] during lessons is clear."
     
  20. ________

As with many of the other numbered lists of this sort presented from time to time on the EduTech blog, the last item is left deliberately blank, both as symbolic recognition of the fact that I have certainly missed a lot of things -- and as a prompt for people to attempt to fill in the blank themselves with observations as a result of their own reading of the report. (Feel free to do so in the comments section below, via email or on your own blogs.)

These observations are pretty much all from a pan-European perspective. One expects that it is through the specific analyses of individual themes and challenges in individual countries that many much more interesting observations and insights will emerge. While viewed from afar, 'ICT use in education in Europe' may seem to be of a certain general nature, but there is a wide variety of activity and practice across the continent. Diving into individual country reports, and comparing and contrasting sets of them, may yield more relevant and targeted policy guidance than the ten thousand meter perspective of general findings and recommendations.

Whatever your perspective or specific policy or research interest may be, there is sure to be something of potential relevance to your work in this rich new Survey. (I would expect to see data from this survey mashed up with other data sets -- PISA anyone? -- in short order by many researchers, for example.) Whether or not the questions asked during the course of this survey work are in fact the most important ones, there can be little denying the utility of what the teams at the European Schoolnet and University of Liege have produced here. As the OECD's Andreas Schleicher likes to say (echoing Henry Ford and many others), "without data, you are just another guy with an opinion." Policymaking related to ICT use in education is rife with opinions and ideological positions. Reports like this help bring us a little closer to a time when such opinions and positions are informed to a greater extent by data and good science than by politics, intuition, and marketing imperatives.
 

Other reports about ICT use in education in Europe of potential interest:

A past EduTech post, Around the World with Portugal's eEscola Project and Magellan Initiative, may also be of interest.
 
This is the second in a series of short posts about recent regional surveys of ICT use in education around the world. Last week's post looked at Central and West Asia -- the next post will look at Latin America.

 
Note: The image used at the top of this blog post of students at the Fyrstikkalleen School in Norway using laptops ("igniting new approaches to learning with technology") comes from Wikipedian Ragnam1211 via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The image in the middle of a blog post of a classroom in Austria ("ask us how we're using ICTs") also comes via Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain.
 

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