Boys, girls and hypertext

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

Computers, cell phones and tablets are now so much a part of our lives that we can’t even remember what life was like before them—much less figure out how we managed to get through the day without consulting them. The youngest students now surf the Net with the skill of cyber beach boys and text friends as easily as waving at them.

Or do they?

In 2009 PISA conducted a groundbreaking survey of digital literacy  among 15-year-old students. PISA wanted to find out whether boys and girls are as ready for the digital age as they—and we—think they are. As the latest issue of PISA in Focus shows, while many students may have the technological skills, not all have the cognitive skills to fully capitalise on technology to access, manage, integrate and evaluate digital information.

On average, PISA results show that student performance in digital reading is closely related to performance in print reading, meaning that those students who are proficient in reading texts on paper are also proficient in reading texts on a screen. But in some countries, such as Australia and Korea, students score significantly higher in digital reading than in print reading; while in other countries, notably Hungary, Poland and the partner country Colombia, students are better in print reading than in digital reading.

Perhaps the most interesting finding from this assessment has to do with the difference in digital literacy between girls and boys. Since the beginning of the PISA tests in 2000, girls have always scored higher in reading than boys–and by a substantial margin: the equivalent of one year of formal schooling. While this is still true for reading digital texts, the performance gap is significantly narrower: 24 score points compared with 38 score points in print reading.

A closer look at these results showed that there was a larger percentage of boys at the highest proficiency levels in digital reading than at the highest levels in print reading, and a smaller percentage of boys at the bottom proficiency levels in digital reading scale than at the bottom level in print reading.

What might account for this? Digital literacy involves more than using a computer and reading words, even if those words are on a screen rather than on a piece of paper. To be literate in digital reading, one must also be able to navigate easily through hypertexts, that is, construct one’s own text using embedded links to other texts and materials, rather than reading a text in predetermined sequence. Boys might be more interested–and have greater experience–in navigating through hypertexts than in reading a printed page.

In turn, that important finding could be used by parents, educators and policy makers to set in motion a “virtuous cycle” whereby encouraging boys to read more on line would lead to better digital reading proficiency which, in turn, would instill greater enjoyment of reading, which, ultimately, could lead to better reading performance in both print and digital media.

For more information:
on PISA:
Full set of PISA in Focus:
Students On Line: Digital Technologies and Performance, explores students’ use of information technologies to learn

Photo credit: ©Hemera/Thinkstock 

Leave a Reply