Are ‘digital natives’ really digitally competent?—A study on Chinese teenagers


  • Yan Li is an associate professor in the Department of Education at Zhejiang University. Maria Ranieri is a researcher in the Department of Education at the University of Florence.

Maria Ranieri, Department of Education, Via Laura, 48, 50121, Florence, Italy. Tel.: +39 055 2756181. Email:


Literature review has found that despite the considerable attention focused on ‘digital natives’, few studies have carefully investigated the characteristics of this group. The purpose of this study is to contribute to the debate on digital natives by providing a ‘piece of evidence’ on the digital competence status of a group of Chinese teenagers (ninth grade students) randomly selected from the Jiangdong District in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province. An Instant Digital Competence Assessment (iDCA) tool, developed by a research group from the University of Florence, was adopted as the measurement tool for the study. Quantitative research was employed and the research design for the study was descriptive in nature. Data analysis results found that the majority of the participating ninth grade students (n = 317) had personal computers (PCs) and the Internet available at home and the average period of time owing a PC was about 5 years. The iDCA results indicated that (1) participants' overall performance in the iDCA was just ‘pass’ rather than ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, which might imply that digital natives in China are not necessarily digitally competent; (2) there were big disparities among participants as regards their digital competence; (3) participants' digital competence differed depending on their schools and their ages; (4) participants' digital competence was not significantly influenced by such factors as having a PC or not, having the Internet or not at home, frequency of computers and Internet use. On the basis of the findings, the study concluded by highlighting the role of education in improving teenagers' digital competence and by recommending the development of well-designed teaching and learning materials for the Chinese K-12 school system.