There are several challenges regarding digital skills such as digital inequalities (differences in access, promotion, and digital skills outcomes ), inconsistent measurement and monitoring of digital skills and the lack of confidence to teach digital skills. Other challenges include:
Fostering the digital skills of children in vulnerable situations. Children who face socio-economic difficulties often have less opportunities to develop their digital skills. This is not just because they often lack access to good quality infrastructure such as a stable internet connection at home or school, but also because they have limited access to expertise and support networks and, most importantly, they have less opportunities to reap the benefits of online technologies and achieve positive outcomes. The lack of digital skills can increase existing social inequalities; therefore, it is vital to offer tailored support so that to children in vulnerable situations can also develop their digital skills .
Even though most European countries have strategies in place to develop digital skills, not all countries regularly monitor and evaluate if these programs work . Monitoring and evaluation are important to know if the programs succeed in supporting the development of adequate digital skills among children and young people.
Although formal education is crucial to help children develop their digital skills, many teachers acknowledge that they lack knowledge or skills themselves, others admit they lack confidence to teach digital skills. Educators must be offered enough training opportunities to increase their own digital skills and to be able to support their students acquire them .
Useful tips for educators
Do not assume that this generation is a ‘digital native’ generation and who do not need help developing digital skills. Research shows that young people are often not as tech-savvy as educators might believe, and they need support to develop their digital skills .
Try to assess your own digital skills and those of your students so that you can make informed decisions and set priorities. You can use tools such as SELFIE to get a snapshot of your school‘s strengths and weaknesses as regards technology use.
Try to keep up to date with the latest technical innovations and trends about how children and young people use technologies and their impact on them.
Use technology in different ways in the classroom to make full use of the potential of technology. As research shows that peers can have a positive influence on children’s ability to use technology, stimulate children to use technology together. You can get some inspiration on collaborative teaching and learning in the Co-Lab project website.
Stimulate critical awareness for children and young people when they use digital technologies. Create a safe space where children are stimulated to ask critical questions, for instance, regarding the role of new technological developments, such as artificial intelligence or virtual reality . You can also encourage class debates to find out about what your students think about issues such as technology , social media or artificial intelligence.
Special attention should go to the development of digital skills for children with disabilities, they may need assistive technologies such as special hardware or software .
Schools can play an important role to increase the confidence of educators to teach digital skills by offering regular training for educators.
Schools can offer more opportunities for children to help shape the development and implementation of digital education at their school. This means involving them in the creation of relevant policies, but also awareness-raising initiatives and class activities. Ideas on how to develop a social media literacy strategy for schools can be found on the sml4change project website .
If schools are planning to acquire or use commercial digital products or services at school these should be carefully assessed to ensure that they are GDPR compliant and that they fully respect children’s rights .
If schools have a ‘bring your own device policy (BYOD)’, they should control that every child has adequate devices, and if not, they should offer devices to the children who do not own one . They should also consider potential security risks. More guidance for school leaders on BYOD can be found in this guide.
Useful tips for policy-makers
Education policymakers must ensure that all children and young people have enough opportunities to develop their digital skills. Next to programs that focus on formal learning in a classroom setting, programs that stimulate the development of digital skills in informal learning, outside of schools are also crucial.
Policymakers should focus on minimising digital inequalities by ensuring that all children and young people have access to good quality technologies and connectivity as well as enough opportunities to develop and improve their digital skills.
Additionally, educators must be afforded enough opportunities to develop their digital skills throughout their careers. This should start during their initial teacher training and should continue during in-service training .
Policymakers should promote digital education programs that foster a wide range of skills from a young age. These programmes should include skills beyond technical, operational ones, such as information navigation, communication and interaction, and content creation and production skills. Collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills should also be fostered along digital skills and media literacy.
Greater cooperation between formal education and the research community should be encouraged to stimulate the exchange of experiences and good practices between practitioners and academics. This can help increase the uptake of evidence-based interventions to foster digital skills. Furthermore, if researchers work closely with educators, the interventions developed can be better tailored to the diverse school realities and, thus, increase their impact and effectiveness.
Finally, it is vital to evaluate and monitor programs that aim to support the development of digital skills. Digital skills should be assessed systematically to gather information on where improvements are necessary.
Donoso, V. (2022). Youth digital skills: Insights from the ySKILLS project. (CO:RE Short Report Series on Key Topics). Hamburg: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI); CO:RE - Children Online: Research and Evidence. https://doi.org/10.21241/ssoar.78951
Livingstone, S., Mascheroni, G. & Stoilova, M. (2021). The outcomes of gaining digital skills for young people’s lives and wellbeing: A systematic evidence review. New media & society, https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211043189
Van Deursen, A. J. & Van Dijk, J. A. (2014). Digital skills: Unlocking the information society. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137437037
Donoso, V., Retzmann, N., Joris, W. & d'Haenens, L. (2021). Digital skills: An inventory of actors and factors. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4525639
Council of Europe (2021). Guidelines to support equitable partnerships of education institutions and the private sector. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/guidelines-to-support-equitable-partnerships-of-education-institutions/1680a4408b
Council of Europe (2019). Developing and Promoting Digital Citizenship Education. Recommendation CM/Rec (2019)10. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/0900001680a236c0