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Uses, skills and attitude in digital technology fields. Does a gender gap exist among Spanish secondary-school students?

Mireia Usart, Carme Grimalt-Alvaro y Luz Mayra Niño-Cortés, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)
Project selected in the Social Research Call 2019 (LCF/PR/SR19/52540001)

It is said that a digital gender gap exists from childhood, but its actual reach is unknown; in other words, in which aspects specifically it materialises during the different educational phases. The digital gender divide goes beyond mere differences in the use of digital technology. It is also measured with respect to differing perceptions and attitudes regarding the use of technology between males and females. For this reason, it is necessary to know in which specific aspects differences exist – especially in those phases in which students are developing their identity – as well as to study their evolution over the course of secondary education. This study shows that girls recognise their dependency on technology to a larger degree than boys, but they are more aware of aspects related with cybersecurity, whereas boys consider themselves much more skilled than girls in technical and communication aspects, and they hold a slightly more positive attitude towards technology. These differences increase as secondary education stages advance, being more significant in the sixth form. The results highlight the need to improve the personalisation of learning with a view to reducing the gender differences observed: on the one hand, accompanying boys in the development of their technical-ethical competences; on the other, working specifically with girls on aspects of dependency and technology and communication skills, as well as helping them to positivise their attitude with regard to digital technology.
Key points
  • 1
       Although in Spain a digital gender gap exists, this is not measured in terms of differences in the use of digital technology, but differences in digital skills – technoethical, information, technology, multimedia and communication skills – and in attitude towards them.
  • 2
       In the two genders, both the perceived use of technology and perceived digital competence are situated at a medium-high level and increase significantly as students progress through the key stages of secondary education. However, technoethical aspects worsen with each key stage. With respect to attitude, on average it is positive (3.89/5), but in the sixth form it worsens.
  • 3
       As for gender differences, girls recognise their dependence on mobile devices and the internet to a larger extent than boys, as well as a higher real use in both, in the personal and the academic sphere alike. All in all, the differences are only significant in the sixth form and with respect to dependency, not to perceived use.
  • 4
       On analysing in detail the diverse skills that make up digital competence, the existence is confirmed of a significant advantage in favour of girls with respect to technoethical skills; specifically, in aspects related to cybersecurity. This gap gradually increases, until it reaches 6 percentage points in the sixth form.
  • 5
       In the gap observed in digital competence, the development of boys is situated above that of their female peers in technology and communication skills, exceeding 4 percentage points among boys (high level) and girls (medium level) by the end of the sixth form.
  • 6
       Boys display a more positive attitude to technology than girls: they consider that it is easy to use and that it facilitates learning. Despite this, the differences between the genders do not exceed 3 percentage points. Attitude worsens by key stage in a significant way for girls only, being more negative in the sixth form.
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As can be observed in the above graph, the gender gap is focused on the perception of digital skills: boys consider that they are better than girls in technology and communication aspects, while girls think they are better in technoethics. Digital skills improve in each key stage and for both genders, except in technoethics, where they decline.

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