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Children read in class on tablets: "rather rare" in Germany


Lars Fröhlich / FUNKE Photo Services / IMAGO

It is considered indispensable for organizing everyday life and informing oneself: the Internet. A research team from Dortmund has investigated how well children in Germany are trained to read texts and research facts – and has come to a sobering conclusion.

According to the study, digital media for reading are "rather rarely" used in primary school teaching by international standards, as Ramona Lorenz, project manager of the International Primary School Reading Survey (IGLU), stated at the presentation of the results. Germany is clearly lagging behind other countries in this respect.

In Norway and New Zealand, more than 85 percent of fourth-grade students use digital media at least weekly for primary school reading. In Germany, the figure is only 26.7 percent, according to the Institute for School Development Research (IFS). It is based on a special evaluation of the IGLU data for digital reading.

"The differences are striking," says Lorenz. Overall, Germany is far below the peer groups of the European Union with 37.3 percent, the OECD with 43.2 percent and also the international average with 41.2 percent.

Research projects on the Internet »rather the exception«

Even when comparing certain reading activities – reading digital texts, finding facts, carrying out entire research projects – Germany performs rather poorly. According to the data, digital devices are most often used in the classroom for digital reading. However, this is also true for less than a third of fourth-graders.

Digital devices are even less frequently used to research facts and definitions in Germany's primary schools. Not even a quarter of fourth-graders do this at least once a week. At around 10 percent, entire research projects are "rather the exception," reported researcher Lorenz.

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For all three reading purposes considered, Germany is thus significantly below the average values of the comparison groups EU, OECD and the international average.

By comparison, in Denmark and Sweden, more than two-thirds of fourth-graders use digital devices at least once a week to research facts and definitions. There, as in Bulgaria, the implementation of entire research projects is part of everyday school life for around half of the schoolchildren on a weekly basis.

When it comes to reading literacy, Germany ranks in the middle of the pack

From the point of view of the ISF research team, the results are also remarkable because searching for and reading information on the Internet is a central activity "that is relevant for (technical) learning". In addition, digital media could increase the motivation to read. This is precisely what is lacking in Germany, as the results of the IGLU study published in May showed.

According to the study, only 34 percent of fourth-graders in Germany said they "very much" like to read – the average of the 57 countries tested was 42 percent. Another problem was the finding that around a quarter of children in Germany cannot read well enough to understand simple texts in the 4th grade.

The surprising result of the latest IGLU evaluation is that although primary school children in Germany use digital media to read in class much less often than their peers in many other countries, they do not perform so badly in a comparison of skills.

The research team tested how well students in the fourth grade can read, interpret and critically reflect on information in an environment that looks like the Internet. A teacher avatar navigated them through websites to answer questions, explain contexts and interpret information. This included photos, diagrams, maps and pop-up boxes. A total of 123 tasks on five texts had to be mastered.

Overall, Germany's fourth-graders landed in the middle of the field in these tests, according to the short report of the Dortmund researchers. However, a closer look at the answers to individual questions showed that, on average, the children have a hard time with certain tasks, namely when it comes to drawing conclusions or interpreting and combining information.

In some cases, Germany is significantly below the average of EU participants, according to the IFS short report. Conclusion: There is a lot of catching up to do.

Overall, the results show that it pays off to give primary school children more digital devices to read. In the majority of countries that participated in the study, a moderate duration of digital reading time of up to 30 minutes per day was associated with higher reading literacy. This also applies to Germany.