Brussels, 25 Jan 2006
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has published research compiled from its 30 member countries, including within the EU, suggesting that children who are exposed to computers from a young age perform better at key subjects such as maths than those who are not.
The data, published in 'Are Students Ready for a Technology-rich World?', are drawn from a selection of 15-year olds across OECD countries tested for maths proficiency according to the PISA scale, which not only assesses classroom ability but how maths can be used in real-life situations. The figures were gathered in 2003.
The study found that students who had used computers for less than one year (10 per cent of the sample) scored below the OECD average. However, students using computers for more than five years (37 percent of the sample) scored well above the OECD average.
When looking at the direct relationship between maths performance and computer use, the report found that: 'On average in OECD countries, students with computers available to use at home have a mean score in mathematics of 514 points, whereas those without computers available score only 453 points. This is a substantial difference in terms of mathematics proficiency, equal to one full proficiency level on PISA's six-level proficiency scale for mathematics. Students who do have a computer at home perform on average at Level 3; those without perform at Level 2.'
In the majority of OECD countries, three-quarters of students use computers at home in addition to in school.
The study found that students who performed badly may have been influenced by their socio-economic backgrounds, but only insofar as those from low income families are less likely to own a computer. The recent push for affordable computers for the developing world, led by figures such as MIT's Nicholas Negroponte, may therefore have knock-on benefits in terms of raising levels of numeracy.
The small number of students who still have only limited access to computers performed below the OECD average in tests. 'In particular, those without access to computers at home are, on average, one proficiency level below the OECD average. In most countries this effect remains even after accounting for socio-economic background of students,' reads the report.
Taking socio-economic factors, the positive effect of computers is clear from the report's data. The study found that although we may think that children with computers may use them primarily to play computer games, half of all students reported using word processing software as well as the Internet for research.
Girls were found to be less confident, using computers less often than boys. Boys are also more likely to play computer games and attempt programming than girls.