Global digital reality

13 Nov 2013

In education, the transformation that is occurring from the print to the digital era has many twists and turns. Some early adopters may have retreated for fear of reputational damage, often encouraged by sensationalist media reports or student safety concerns, or persuaded by eager developers selling their skills and products, whereas others have driven innovative uses of digital networks to capture the use of collaboration, online services and digital resources for their benefit. These considerations provoke questions of an overall perspective about the take up of digital technologies globally and how ICT take up may be linked to education.

The ITU has been collecting and publishing statistics about international telecommunications for 39 years, mostly during an era of analogue communications. However, in 2013, the ITU released its sixth report about the take up of digital technologies in information societies. The report, Measuring the Information Society: 2013 (171) for which an excellent 42 page Executive Summary is openly available, is a valuable and revealing document. Its release is relevant, at a time when information about the merits of fast and slow broadband networks continues to be debated, in a number of countries.

Interestingly, ‘around half of the world’s population lives within reach of a 3G network’ (p. 1) which accounts for about 2 billion people which is a 30% global take up rate. Household internet connections are less than half of the mobile take up figure, with fixed line connections even less and decreasing. These numbers confirm a global trend towards the use of mobile digital services.

The countries that dominate a digital index that measures digital access, use and skills include South Korea, all five Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland), the Netherlands and the UK. Australia follows further down the list at 11th position, with New Zealand 16th and the US 17th. Surprisingly, one of the early digital network adopters, Canada, is at 20th place. Whether or not there is a relationship with educational performance in these countries is a matter for rigorous evaluation although a correlation with PISA attainment in reading, mathematics and science* may be intriguing.

There continues to be an increase in digital access, use and skills globally although the gap between developed and developing countries would also appear to be increasing. That is, the digital divide between developed and developing countries is widening, which is a factor that will definitely have an impact on education, especially on access to digital resources. The issue of equity in education on a global scale, taking into account the measures of digital access, use and skills, is a real issue that is addressed by both the World Bank (0) and UNESCO, both of which are innovative and inclusive.

Measuring the Information Society: 2013 (171) is an interesting report for students and scholars of ICT in education. Reading the report, which is well produced, provokes many questions about education, some of which have been addressed briefly above. However, there are many other issues where ICT will affect education, not the least of which is the vast numbers of people between the ages of 15 and 24 years who have only lived in a digital environment, particularly in the United States, Brazil, Japan, India, France and Egypt. Will they have an impact on innovation in education?


* OECD. (2010). PISA 2009 Results: What students Know and Can Do – Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science (Volume 1). Retrieved November 6, 2013, from (68) (p. 54, 133, 151. 155).

Research Report:

ICT Data and Statistics Division, International Telecommunication Union, (2013). Measuring information society. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union . Retrieved from (391)

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

This article was first published on the Australian Council for Educational Research's Digital Education Research Network 2 (DERN) and is reproduced here in whole, courtesy of DERN.

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