Digital education: only a quarter of German schools have WiFi

Digital education: only a quarter of German schools have WiFi

Growing up with a mobile phone in one hand and a laptop in the other, you might think that children in Germany are all born-and-bred tech whizzes. But a new study has shown that, just because they own digital devices, that does not necessarily mean they can use them very well. In fact, the majority have relatively sub-par digital skills - especially in international comparison.

ICILS study: Digital education in Germany in midfield

Despite the fact that digital education has become more important over the past five years, barely any progress has been made in the field of digital competency. Primary and secondary schools in Germany are being held back by serious deficiencies in IT equipment. 

These are the key findings of the latest ICILS (International Computer and Information Literacy Study), which examined the digital literacy of 8th graders in schools across 14 different countries. As in the previous investigation five years ago, Germany is stuck in the midfield when it comes to digital education. 

Denmark, the only other European country to participate in both ICILS studies, once again outperformed Germany and even extended its lead, coming ahead of tech-savvy South Korea. Finland and the USA both fared better than the federal republic.

One third of schoolchildren have mediocre computer skills

The study found that a solid 33 percent of young people in Germany have only rudimentary or basic computer and information-related skills. This means, for example, that they may be able to search for something on the internet, but not evaluate what they find, or even create content themselves. 

The highest level of competence was achieved by 1,9 percent of German 8th-graders, a similar proportion compared to other countries. The majority (42,9 percent) achieved Level 3 skills, meaning they are able to find information under guidance or handle documents with assistance. 

This is worrying, says Birgit Eickelmann, who was responsible for the German part of the study, as it concerns the future of 14-year-olds. If a third of all students lacked basic skills for the future, that would be considered “a bit dramatic”. 

Attitudes towards digital education are improving

Recognition of this fact is where some progress has been made: The ICLIS study showed that attitudes towards digital education in Germany are changing: more than half of school principals now think that digital education is important. Nowadays, 23,1 percent of teachers use digital media in class every day, compared to just 9,1 percent five years ago. 

Why, then, have student competencies not improved since 2013? One explanation might be that digital media use in German classrooms is very much teacher-focused - for instance, it is used to present information to the entire class, rather than for individualised learning, as is much more common in Denmark. 

German schools held back by poor IT equipment

But the report makes clear that the largest factor holding back digital competency in Germany is a serious lack of adequate equipment in schools. The majority of principals expressed that they wanted better equipment. 

The figures speak for themselves: Only 26,2 percent of young people attend a school where both teachers and students have access to a WiFi network. This puts Germany laughably behind the international average of 64,9 percent. 

On average, each computer in Germany is shared between 10 people, compared with five in Denmark. 3,2 percent of schools equip all teachers with their own portable digital terminals (i.e. laptops or tablets). Internationally, the average is 24,1 percent and in Denmark it is as high as 91,1 percent. 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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