Amount Of Time Teens Spend Online Can Improve Digital Literacy

Don't disconnect your kids: teenagers who spend time on the web are more digitally literate during a time when technological proficiency is increasingly important, a recent report suggests.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of students who reported having access to Internet at home nearly doubled -- to 89 percent from 45 percent, according to the Digital Technologies and Performance report published by the Programme for International Student Assessment. PISA is an assessment conducted by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on 15-year-old students across OECD countries. The group defines reading literacy as:

"Understanding, using, reflecting on and engaging with written texts in order to achieve one's goals, develop one's knowledge and potential, and participate in society. This definition applies to both print and digital reading."

Although the surveyed students are considered "digital natives," or those born in the digital age, all 16 surveyed countries had significant numbers of low-performing students in digital literacy. While more than 17 percent of students in Korea, New Zealand and Australia reached the highest level of digital reading performance, more than 25 percent of those in Chile, Austria, Hungary and Poland performed at the lowest level -- Colombia's proportion of low-performing students reached almost 70 percent.

This isn't to say that these students are incapable of navigating the web. Many of these students can locate basic pieces of information and browse web pages if given specific instructions. But they are performing at lower levels than will allow them to fully utilize the educational, employment and social opportunities available to them in a modern context.

The advent of information and communication technology has led to weighted emphasis on online reading, which researchers believe that the features of digital text require specific text-processing skills related to access, comprehension and evaluation. Even when guidance on page navigation is specific, PISA results show that digital natives still struggle in a digital environment to find crucial pages and do not know how to operate effectively. The report notes:

"This finding represents both a warning and an opportunity. It is a warning to advanced economies that they cannot take for granted that they will forever have "human capital" superior to that in other parts of the world. At a time of intensified global competition, they will need to work hard to maintain a knowledge and skill base that keeps up with changing demands."

Although North America was not represented in the survey, the GDP of countries that did participate in PISA 2009 represents 87 percent of the 2007 world GDP.

This report comes at a time when federal agents are teaching children about cyber security, and when states are prohibiting the use of social media sites in classrooms.

Other PISA findings show that participating in certain activities like emailing and chatting online influence digital reading performance. Across the surveyed countries, performance in digital proficiency is bell-shaped over time for home-users -- those who use the computer to email and chat online, both for leisure and schoolwork while at home, tend to perform better than rare and intensive users. In school, however, students perform more negatively with more intensive computer use, suggesting that students are developing digital reading literacy largely through computer use at home.

PISA administers an assessment every three years. The 2012 survey will focus on reading. Countries and territories that participated in PISA 2009 are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Colombia, Hong Kong-China and Macao-China.