Preparing students for the challenges of everyday life and the work environment is the most important mission of public education.
In our times, the development of digital skills is an indispensable part of education, as stipulated in the National Core Curriculum as well. However, experience tells us – and the enterprises hiring fresh graduates concur – that the students do not possess appropriate digital knowledge and therefore they are at a competitive disadvantage. They are not qualified to fulfill certain positions, which require such skills or, in the case of the IT field, the required professional knowledge. This situation has a negative impact on both the economic development and employment prospects.
Digital literacy is essential for the handling and control of IT tools, which amount for an ever-growing share of our work environment. This is a key competence factor, which is indispensable for a successful presence on the labor market, and it has a significant impact on the quality of life in general as well.
Therefore, the latest issue of the National Core Curriculum (NAT 2012) was updated with the appropriate exit requirements for the IT subject.
However, this measure proved to be ineffective in providing for more than the most basic education and preparation of users. It did not achieve the desired effect of ensuring the flux of highly skilled labor force required by IT companies. Moreover, IT services are so deeply embedded into all aspects of the daily life that the lack of appropriate digital skills and knowledge will inevitably lead to failure at some point.
Skills supplied by the current system of education does not meet the existing labor market demand
In spite of the immense global demand, Hungarian schools are incapable of effectively producing the required number of skilled IT professionals. Not being employable at digital workplaces is a huge disadvantage as it is now. Considering the pace of current digital development, a large part of traditional professions is expected to disappear by the time the current students are released onto the labor market, replaced by machines and software solutions. On the other hand, a number of innovative digital workplaces are bound to be created in the same process.
As a consequence, expectations towards programmers and software developers exceed basic user skills by far. However, public education has no solutions for their training, preparation, motivation or enrollment. Today, there are less people enrolling for IT studies than leaving the domestic IT labor market in hopes of a job abroad or a European pension.
The low number of students affects the entire domestic IT sector. Hungarian companies have started to lose their competitive edge and need to rely on imported workforce from Ukraine and the Middle East, in spite of the surging salaries in the sector, which is due to the fact that IT is one of the most dynamically expanding and growing added value industry. One of the main pillars of Hungary's competitiveness in international comparison is our IT sector, which is, in the same time, starved for young and fresh talent.
As a consequence, graduates released on the market can expect increasing difficulties in finding a job in lack of appropriate digital skills.
IVSZ compiled a list of issues, which negatively affect the development of ICT capabilities in schools and proposed a complex package of measures for improving the low digital skills development characteristic of public education.
Issues listed by IVSZ:
- Outdated assets
- Low bandwidth
- Lack of electronic support services and digital content
- Lack of system administrators and maintenance
- Lack of teacher training for digital education
Digital education is a complex system of interconnected elements, which are not functional on their own and therefore cannot be successfully prioritized. The following overview presents the essential conditions for a successful digital education by European standards.
Internet access/network bandwidth
Like in Europe, most Hungarian schools use ADSL technology to connect to the Internet. However, the average bandwidth measured in Hungarian institutions is generally lower than the European average. The number of institutions with access to 30 Mb/s or faster Internet is particularly low in comparison. The Hungarian average is 4 Mb/s, which not only places Hungary among the worst performing 20% of European countries, but is also inadequate for providing the expected level of IT services.
The functional minimum value was established as 30 Mb/s, which is available in less than 10% of Hungarian institutions. 70% of Hungarian institutions have access to a bandwidth of less than 10 Mb/s.
Hungary has average computer penetration values for an EU country; however, the age and distribution of IT resources is an important issue.
In Hungary, most PCs are located in the IT labs, making them generally unavailable for most school lessons such as science education. Although the share of functional devices is relatively on an EU level, the age of the Hungarian device pool is one of the highest.
Due to the aging of PCs and the lack of appropriate resupply and preservation, the entire resource pool is bound to become unusable in a few years' time. In fact, the main reason why the aging machine pool is still successfully maintained by domestic schools is that they are already used to being required to maintain and service the computers themselves, and often with help from teachers and parents.
One more factor on the negative side is that only about a third of the computers are connected to the Internet. Most of these are found in settlements with a higher-income population, leading to an exceedingly significant disadvantage at the expense of the underprivileged, who are likely to have little to no access to IT equipment at home as well.
At the same time, the figures related to the supply of interactive whiteboards show diametrically opposed correlations. Interactive whiteboards are generally used in science labs and in the schools of lower-income population settlements. This is an example of positive discrimination caused by the fact that the developed Central Hungarian Region was not considered for the purposes of the TIOP tender (TIOP - Operational Programme 'Social Infrastructure') launched for the procurement of interactive whiteboards.
Digital reading skills
Most of the talk is about digital literacy; however, the creation of digital structures is not the top priority issue generated by the current social and labor market requirements. It is critical for everyone to be capable of using the existing systems, searching for information, filtering as well as to present adequate flexibility when required to combine different pieces of IT equipment. One module of the well-known PISA survey of student skills was designed to investigate these issues, collectively known as digital reading skills.
As part of the survey, students were expected to solve such deceptively simple tasks with the use of digital devices as buying a train ticket, plan a journey, collect information on certain given topics and do research for formulating an answer to complex issues.
Contrary to popular belief, a significant part of the younger generation does not have the necessary skills for using digital equipment. More often than not, the continuous use of devices is restricted to the use of simple communications, social and multimedia functions. As a consequence, they sometimes lack the skills for even the easiest device setting requirements as well as the most trivial information management, searching, storing or sorting processes. Some of the more unexpected results of the PISA survey with regard to Hungary show that the current system of education is not suitable for providing adequate development for digital reading skills. On the contrary, it may even have the opposite effect.
The lack of adequate training for the use of digital equipment leads to a significant disadvantage, especially among high school students. At least one third of all students are negatively affected by this phenomenon and are expected to experience difficulties on the labor market. It is especially alarming that these low figures are not the result of a slow increase, but rather a decrease resulting from the reduction of the number of IT courses and the lack of emphasis on ICT education.
Issues Related to the Development of Digital Education
Experience acquired in the last period of development (2007-2013) and during the execution of earlier programs shows that the development of digital education in schools did not necessarily have the expected optimal effect. This is mainly due to the fact that digital education is a complex system, which must be thoroughly coordinated from a technological and pedagogical point of view. The development of individual elements within the agenda does not improve performance. In the contrary, research has shown that in certain cases (UK, Norway, EUN 2006), the performance of students may even decrease after the development of infocommunication tools. These results are mainly attributable to the deficiencies in the training of teachers as well as the missing tools of methodology and content.
An additional issue which is frequently encountered in connection with development is sustainability. Most institutions that received a serious external funding once to develop its asset pool are not capable of carrying out adequate asset development from internal sources in every 3 or 4 years. Such development usually requires separate development resources and cannot be funded from the school budget. Therefore, the fast-aging assets cannot be appropriately integrated into the system of education and fail to produce the expected results.
In the light of recent technological development and the experience detailed above, a new type of development for digital education is necessary. Investment into ICT resources is not enough to achieve the desired effect. For example, increasing the sheer number of computers does not lead to a detectable increase in performance while putting significant additional burden on schools in terms of security, maintenance, management and operation.
The most successful avenues of development are related to education processes, which require ICT investment as an integral part of general development.
IVSZ compiled a list of the issues, which negatively affect the development of ICT capabilities in schools and proposed a complex package of measures for improving the low digital skills development characteristic of public education. The first part of the package contains the basic strategic proposals, while the second part contains a list of operative tasks suitable for amplifying the effects of the national bandwidth development strategies in place.
IVSZ is open to suggestions, ideas and feedback on its Program for Promoting Digital Education in Schools. The Association has started to collect positive examples for projects and practices suitable for adequately preparing students for the challenges of the digital economy and plans to share this knowledge base with schools and organizations, in order to tackle these worrying phenomena.
The Program for Promoting Digital Education in Schools is free to download, print and distribute!