PISA 2006

December 12, 2007

Denmark has once again been hit by a statistical thermometer claiming to be measuring young people’s ICT use and ability to perform particular activities with computers and internet. This time it is called PISA 2006, part of which is about 15-16 year olds and their self-assessments of ICT usage in primary schools as well as outside school.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006  Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World is conducted by OECD, and it is the third PISA survey. The first was conducted in 2000 and the second in 2003.

According to the Danish Ministry of Education (see references below) 57 countries have participated in PISA 2006. Approximately 400.000 15-16 year old students representing 32 million students in the 57 participating countries. Approximately 4.500 Danish students have participated in the Danish part of the survey.

The Danish results of PISA 2006 are being compared to the Danish results from PISA 2000 and PISA 2003. This time it has not been a huge surprise that the young people’s ICT usage outside school has exploded since PISA 2000 e.g. girls use of ICT almost every day outside school in Denmark has gone up from 27 % in 2000 to 44 % in 2003 and now 79 % in 2006; boys use of ICT almost everyday outside school in Denmark har gone up from 63 % in 2000 to 74 % in 2003 and now 90 % in 2006. However, what has turned out to be a magnificent surprise, is the fact that the students’ ICT usage in schools seems to have moved nowhere and maybe even gone down a bit in the past 6 years (Source: Danish report written by Professor Niels Egelund, available at the Danish Ministry of Education’s homepage, Table B7.2.b og B7.3.b: http://www.uvm.dk/07/documents/pisa_rapport.pdf).  

This is a huge surprise that must render the politicians flabbergasted. Especially since the national e-learning strategy launched in June 2007 did not include initiatives targeting primary and secondary schools, based on the assumption that they were already doing well. The government has been focusing on the fact that Denmark is one of the leading countries when it comes to internet access and amount of students per computer in primary schools.

So here I go again… wondering… Asking myself, what this is about?

First of all, there is a tendency to believe in the equation: more ICT = more usage. This however, only explains part of the story… 

Within half a year we have gone from a state of excitement to a state of crisis in the Danish primary schools. Within one year Denmark has been depicted as both characterized by approx. 40 % it-illiterates and we have recently been placed at the top of the EU27 countries when it comes to computer and broadband access in households as well as individuals’ ICT skills (see my previous comments on these events: https://mikalasklumme.wordpress.com/category/surveys-about-it-skills-and-denmark/)

According to Professor Niels Egelund, in PISA 2006 we are not able to tell what computers and internet are used for, when the students answer that they are using them in school. So we cannot even say, that when students use computers in schools, it is for educational purposes. Furthermore, answering that ICT  is used almost every day, doesn’t say anything about how much. Even if it did, amount of use and kinds of usage still says nothing about what is being learned from this. The learning and not amounts of students’ usage must be what is relevant in relation to a school context. Also, it seems to me that teachers’ use of ICT for instructional purposes (supporting students’ learning) is not included in PISA 2006. 

Another – maybe even more important – issue is the fact that surveys like PISA 2006 are focusing on separate spheres of everyday living such as either school or home. This means, that the daily criss-crossings between everyday sites of activities become excluded. When students answer how much they use ICT in school (instead of in relation to school activities) we get an unrealistic picture of the complex ways ICT’s participates in students lives in relation to educational purposes. Most students use a variety of ICT’s and digital media in relation to school activities when they are not in school e.g. at home doing homework.

And… furthermore, it is a real possibility that even though high numbers of computers and internet are present in schools, they are not used or experienced as usable / relevant. 

So actually, it is quite difficult to conclude anything useful about the PISA 2006 figures and numbers. ICT may be used more or less; however, this does not necessarily provide us with new knowledge about what really matters when talking about youth, technologies and learning. But numbers count, and even if not everything important in everyday living is countable, PISA 2006 has already generated quite a few media responses depicting the Danish primary school as in a state of crisis.

The Danish free online paper Computerworld has e.g. brought tree articles related to the PISA 2006 results. The English translations of the title of the three articles are “Danish school students’ computer-use drops”, “The IT-branch worries about the it-future of the primary school”, and “Political parties:  Haarder must stop the it-crisis in primary school” (Haarder is the Danish Minister of Education).

I have just read part of Thomas Ryberg’s really interesting PhD thesis “Patchworking as a Metaphor for Learning – Understanding youth, learning and technology” (2007, see: http://www.ell.aau.dk/PhD-Thesis-on-Power-Users.429.0.html).  In chapter 11 he critically discusses the concept of “power users of technology” and how different surveys and research on ICT, youth and learning take point of departure in an imaginary about immediate coherence between amount of ICT, use, and development of relevant skills. Squarely put this equation is often used to conclude on ICT skills: many computers + broadband access + much use = relevant ICT skills. Ryberg shows through his thesis that this is a misleading assumption.

I find Ryberg’s point very important, because this means that we should seriously stop being so focused on numbers and instead start critically creating valuable knowledge about the learning, skills, competencies and literacies that are in fact supported by various ways of using ICT in as well as outside schools. Ryberg’s work also reminds us that we should not romanticize ICT usage in and off itself based on the assumption that more is better.     

Before making hasty decisions about e.g. testing of ICT skills in primary schools – most likely based on misleading assumptions about the roles, functions, effects, and meaning of ICT in schools, I sincerely hope that the politicians will decide to spend true energy on and put an effort into thorough investigations (not merely quantitatively oriented and superficial mappings, monitoring and evaluations).


The Danish Ministry of education’s homepage about PISA 2006: http://www.uvm.dk/07/pisa.htm?menuid=6410 ).

OECD’s PISA homepage: http://www.pisa.oecd.org/pages/0,2987,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

The three mentioned articles (in Danish) in Computerworld:

1. ”Danske skoleelevers computer-brug falder” (4. December 2007):  http://www.computerworld.dk/art/43028?a=related&i=43166. 2. “It-branchen bekymret over folkeskolens it-fremtid” (11. December 2007, kl. 13.47): http://www.computerworld.dk/art/43163?a=block&i=189. 3. ”Partier: Haarder må standse folkeskolens it-krise” (11. December 2007, kl. 14.31): http://www.computerworld.dk/art/43166?a=block&i=189

Other relevant articles in Danish:

“Bertel Haarder: Vi er stadig nummer et i verden” (Computerworld, 13. december 2007, kl. 11.56:  http://www.computerworld.dk/art/43219?a=newsletter&i=1477).

”Skolens computere bliver ikke brugt” (Nordjyske, 12. December 2007, kl. 22.08: http://www.nordjyske.dk/Nyheder/indland.aspx?ctrl=10&data=2%2C2602988%2C5%2C3&count=1)

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e.g. Hansbøl, Mikala: “PISA 2006”, published at Mikala’s Klumme – A researcher’s blog: https://mikalasklumme.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/pisa-2006/. Version 14th December 2007. 


  1. […] Klumme A researcher’s blog « PISA 2006 New IT-barometer and action plan aimed at strengthening basic IT-skills December 14, 2007 […]

  2. […] Teachers use computers most in Europe”, published at Mikala’s Klumme – A researcher’s blog: https://mikalasklumme.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/pisa-2006/. Version 4th January […]

  3. […] Mikala: “Reassembling the Social”, published at Mikala’s Klumme – A researcher’s blog: https://mikalasklumme.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/danish-teachers-use-computers-most-in-europe/. Version 7th January […]

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