Brussels (Brussels Morning) A report published yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and co-funded by Vodafone Germany Foundation, shows how EU students are at risk of an online “infodemic” generated by a digital learning gap.
“Reading in a digital world is even more challenging given the increasing production and consumption of media content”, the 2021 report of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) states.
The PISA report was released as part of an OECD-sponsored digital skills event. The programme measures how 15-year-olds are developing reading skills to navigate the rich technology of the 21st century.
The report reveals how great disparities between countries and the socio-economic backgrounds.of the students are determining factors when it comes to accessing digital technologies and the training on how to use them
It also cites the importance of a reader’s ability to distinguish between fact and opinion in dealing with the massive information flow of the digital era, and encourages developing “learning strategies to detect biased information and malicious content” such as fake news or phishing emails.
With the notable exception of Portugal and Hungary, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly less likely to receive training on how to validate information successfully. In Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden this accounted for a differential of more than 15%, a stark indication of the effects unequal access to digital education can have, according to the OECD report.
“Policy makers, education institutions, civil society and businesses must act now to ensure we meet the EU’s digital decade target of at least 80% of all adults having basic digital skills by 2030”, the Vodafone Group’s Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer, Joakim Reiter, declared.
One of the report’s main findings is that the average amount of time 15-year-olds in OECD countries report spending on the Internet increased from 21 to 35 hours weekly in the period between publication of the PISA 2012 and PISA 2018 reports.
On average across OECD countries, 54% of students said they were trained at school to recognise whether information is biased or not, the report reveals. Yet, this proportion varies across countries.
The report also notes that the relationship between student access to training on how to detect biased information and their capacity to actually distinguish fact from opinion seems to play out very differently across countries.
In dealing with social media in particulary, the OECD study explains how algorithms sort people into groups of like-minded individuals. This results in the creation of echo chambers that “amplify our views and leave us insulated from opposing arguments” that may alter individual beliefs.
Digital skills package
As part of the report presentation, the Vodafone’s Foundation announced a pan-European digital skills education initiative, which aims to empower 16 million students and educators to build the skills and confidence they need to experience the full benefits of technology.
The initiative is part of a €20 million investment to be implemented across 14 European countries by 2025. It will serve as a catalyst for the EU’s digital ambitions of up-skilling the bloc’s population by enhancing its future digital aptitude.
EU’s digital transformation
The Vodafone Foundation initiative is also intended to promote the EU’s Digital Education Plan, covering the 2021-2027 period, with a focus on training young people as well as adults in the digital realm.
Research and Innovation Commissioner Mariya Gabriel commended the PISA’s report as an important indicator.
“I welcome the launch of the PISA report ‘21st Century Readers’. The report could not be more timely – in times where the screen becomes a window to the world, it is important to ensure that young people have the skills to navigate safely and responsibly in the sea of information and knowledge,” Gabriel said.
On 29 April, the European Parliament approved a 7.6 billion euro budget for its digital transformation programme, which also aims to train and enhance workers’ digital skills. The bulk of the budget is designated for investments in supercomputing (€2.2bn), artificial intelligence (€2bn) and cybersecurity (€1.6bn).
According to the OECD, when the PISA framework for reading was first discussed in 1997, only 1.7% of the world’s population used the Internet. By 2019, that had grown to a global penetration rate of 53,6%, representing 4.1 billion people.