IEA's ICILS Study: How well are students prepared for study, work, and life in a digital world?

By Megan Welsh posted 04-10-2020 12:34



By: Dirk Hastedt, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement

In these strange new times of closed schools and working from home, IEA’s International Computer and Information Literacy Study, ICILS 2018, suggests that lots of teachers and their students may struggle to use technology as a replacement for traditional in-classroom teaching. While 70% of students attended schools where ICT coordinators indicated that digital content linked with textbooks was available for teaching and learning, just 32% of teachers in the study reported using this sort of digital content.

At its heart, ICILS addresses a question of critical importance: how well are students prepared for study, work, and in a digital world? 
To answer this, more than 46,000 students and 26,000 teachers from 14 countries and education systems took part. The landmark study is the only study that directly assesses students’ computational thinking skills. As well as assessing the core knowledge, skills and understanding students need to succeed in our dynamic information environment, ICILS 2018 also gathered valuable background information about students’ and teachers’ use of, and attitudes towards, technology.

As with the first cycle, from 2013, this latest cycle of ICILS calls into questions the generalization that young people are “digital natives”. Young people who have grown up surrounded by digital devices are not digital experts; indeed, only 2% of students in ICILS demonstrated an ability to critically assess information found online, and 18% of the students failed to reach even the lowest level of the computer and informational literacy scale, which required them to demonstrate a functional working knowledge of computers as tools.

ICILS results highlight that providing students and their teachers with information and communications technology (ICT) equipment alone, does not automatically result in the development of sophisticated digital literacy skills. Students need to be taught how to use computers effectively, and their teachers need to be supported in their use of ICT in teaching.

The study had two main components, Computer and Information Literacy (CIL), which refers to students’ abilities to access, evaluate and use digital information productively, and Computational Thinking (CT), which relates to the capacity of the student to conceptualize problems and formulate solutions in ways that could be implemented by a computer. The CIL portion of the assessment placed an emphasis on measuring higher-order thinking skills that require students to identify and share online information that is both reliable and trustworthy.

The backbone of all IEA studies is a model which includes the intended, implemented and achieved curricula of the participating countries. By “achieved curriculum” this means the student results, however, the views and needs of teachers also play a prominent role through the questionnaire component of the assessment. This questionnaire allows IEA studies to measures student performance within the wider context of learning.  This includes gathering data on the students’ home environments, their socio-economic status, including the number of books in their home, parental education levels, the number of digital devices they have access to, as well as their use of digital technology for both education and leisure pursuits.

We are just the beginning of what we can learn from ICILS. March saw the public release of the data from the second cycle of ICILS following publication of the international report in November 2019. The data is now freely available on the IEA website. For people who’ve not worked with IEA data, the International Database (IDB) Analyzer is a free software tool developed by IEA and compatible with SAS or SPSS that supports the analysis of data from most major large-scale assessments. If you find yourself in lockdown in the coming weeks, we invite you to dive into and make use of the new data.