Recently released results from the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) global exam once again show disappointing U.S. performance. Every three years, PISA tests 15-year-olds students in reading, mathematics and science. The 2012 results represent the 5th survey, and U.S. 15-year-olds demonstrated no significant improvement in scores. From PISA’s report “United States: Key Findings” it is clear that U.S. results are substandard compared to other countries, particularly in mathematics:
“Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 26th (this is the best estimate, although the rank could be between 23 and 29 due to sampling and measurement error). Performance in reading and science are both close to the OECD average. The United States ranks 17 in reading, (range of ranks: 14 to 20) and 21 in science (range of ranks: 17 to 25). There has been no significant change in these performances over time.”
At a time when high tech companies need knowledgeable, skilled workers more than ever, these results are concerning for the future employability of U.S. youth and the strength of the U.S. economy. While numerous factors contribute to poor U.S. performance, the importance of improved technology in schools, and digital learning cannot be overlooked. In the OECD report there is indication that some portion of the U.S. lag in performance may be attributed to the lack of technology and digital resources:
“After accounting for per capita GDP, 33% of the variation in mathematics performance across OECD countries can be explained by differences in principals’ responses to questions about the adequacy of science laboratory equipment, instructional materials (e.g. textbooks), computers for instruction, Internet connectivity, computer software for instruction, and library materials (OECD 2013d, Table IV.1.2).”
Technology and digital learning are important means for enhancing student engagement, teacher professional development, and support for disadvantaged schools and students. Technology enables the analysis of data to inform instruction, multimedia and adaptive content to help students master complex concepts, and collaboration and creativity tools to support student exploration.
In SIIA’s 2013 Vision K-20 Survey Results, U.S. schools and university educators expressed the desire to expand use of technology. The message from educators is explicit, they need more access to technology:
“While a majority (81%) of K-12 participants reports technology integration as highly important to them and their ideal level of technology integration as high (75%), only 20% say their institution currently has a high level of technology integration.”
Responding to this need is an ongoing, multi-faceted national imperative. Updated public policies and increased investments are critical. For example, SIIA believes that enhancing the E-rate program, which provides schools and libraries with discounts off advanced telecommunications and information services to ensure affordable access, is an important way to help ensure that all students — no matter their socio-economic status — are given access to the best educational resources. In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in September, SIIA outlined specific recommendations viewed as necessary for the successful modernization of the E-rate program.
Technology has permeated all realms and sectors of the workforce, and student success in the workplace will require their digital skills. Embedding digital learning in U.S. schools is a necessary step, though certainly not sufficient, to meet the diversity of students and educational needs in the U.S. so that our students will be better prepared to compete with students around the world in the next round of PISA tests.
Sabrina Eyob is the communications and public policy intern at SIIA. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied Comparative Cultures and Politics, and International Relations.