A national report by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reveals that nearly half of Australian students – 45 per cent of grade six students and 48 per cent of year 10 students – are performing below expected standards in computer literacy.
ACARA's National Assessment Program ICT Literacy report, which has been taken by more than 10,000 students every three years since 2005, found that Australian students' computer skills have dropped for the first time.
Just 55 per cent of grade six students achieved expected standards in 2014 – a sharp drop from 62 per cent in 2011.
Only 52 per cent of year 10 students were deemed competent last year, down from 64 per cent in 2011.
Kids were assessed on basic computer tasks, such as searching the web to find appropriate material, cropping images, making sideshows and designing online surveys.
What the curriculum authority says students should be able to do:
ACARA measures students by their performance on a proficiency level, which represents a "challenging but reasonable" expectation of student achievement at a year level.
Year 10 students should be able to:
Edit font, colour and animations
Create tables and charts
Use the 'history' function on a web browser
Sort data in a spreadsheet
Grade six students should be able to:
Find relevant information on the internet
Edit or change the presentation of a document
Copy and paste information from one column of a spreadsheet to another column
Add a web page to a list of favourites or bookmarks in a web browser
Recognise common computer conventions such as the use of the '.gov' suffix in the URL of a government website
Keep virus protection software up to date
Maintain good posture when using a computer
Who is falling behind?
Boys. While boys tended to be more confident in performing computer-related tasks, girls were more digitally competent. Sixty per cent of grade six girls attained an expected level of competency last year, compared to 51 per cent of boys.
Non-Victorians: Overall, Victorian students outperformed all other states, with a higher proportion of students reaching computer proficiency standards.
Indigenous students. Indigenous students performed consistently worse than non-Indigenous students over the past nine years: 57 per cent of grade six non-Indigenous students achieved the expected level of competency in 2014, compared to 22 per cent of Indigenous students.
Non-metropolitan students. Inner-city grade six kids are achieving the highest scores in computer literacy (58 per cent) compared to students in provincial areas (48 per cent) and those in remote areas (36 per cent).No surprise here
Kids with unemployed or poorly educated parents. Students with parents who were senior managers or professionals, or had attained a bachelor degree or above, had higher test scores than those with parents who were unskilled labourers, office or sales staff, or a year nine level education or below.
What's the problem?
Schools taking students' computer skills "for granted" may be failing to devote enough time and resources to improving students' computer skills, the report suggested.
"These declines in performance are concerning and warrant serious attention," said the chairman of ACARA, Emeritus Professor Steven Schwartz.
"It is tempting to assume that students who use computing devices and smartphones for social interactions (texting, for example) understand all aspects of ICT technology and its applications.
"It appears that we cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction. They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills."
Dr Michael Phillips, who teaches educational technology at Monash University, said despite computer literacy featuring on the Australian curriculum, schools were not given enough direction on how to effectively teach computer skills.
"We don't yet have a formula on this."
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