With the UK heading towards a catastrophic digital skills shortage, extra responsibility falls on schools to narrow this gap. Digital literacy must become a key pillar of education. A digital skills gap has a knock-on effect on the economy, both costing billions and impacting on the success of companies in general. We need to equip the next generation while they’re still young. When basic skills become second nature this makes the route to developing advanced skills more accessible.
We’ve written in the past about the six top digital literacy skills in the classroom. In this article we’ll look at applying these in a wider context.
Digital literacy spans every area of modern online life, from safety and awareness, to problem solving, option choices and career planning. The pandemic has forced learning (and life) into becoming more digital-based. How can we use this disaster to come out the other side stronger?
Children in the UK are using the internet more than ever before; it is essential they know about the potential dangers posed by the online world. Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitude’s Report presents some worrying stats from 2020 on children’s awareness of influencers, advertising and trusting sites. These figures highlight the need for schools to take a role in this area of education if the children aren’t gaining it elsewhere.
The Department for Education (DfE) have dedicated guidance on online safety. Teachers and IT staff can fulfil these safeguarding requirements with the help of EdTech. Online safety solutions keep tabs on student activity and can identify risk and vulnerabilities.
However we can’t keep children wrapped up in a bubble and then send them out into the wide world. A child with no concept of online threats can become an employed adult who unwittingly enters their company email password into a phishing site, or transfers personal money to a scam artist. Digital safety education must come with the addition of real world realities.
Online safety issues don’t stop at the end of the school day. School staff and families need to work together to empower children to recognise misleading or dangerous scenarios. Some of these adults will be less digitally literate themselves. This adds to the challenge of educating entire households.
Looking to the Future
A 2019 study found that 77% of the 9.4 million UK job advertisements required at least basic digital skills. With the pandemic occurring after this research, we’d expect this figure to be even higher now. Of the roles analysed, those requiring digital skills paid 29% more per annum, over those roles that did not. Having specific digital skills also further reduced a person’s risk of becoming redundant through automation, and led to career progression. Currently only 64% of those in households with an income under £17,499 hold essential digital skills for life, versus 95% of those with a £50,000+ household income.
It’s frequently reported in the news about concerns over future skills shortages. This is alongside current vacancies already being tricky to fill due to lack of candidate digital skills.
It’s clear to see how ensuring that young children are digitally confident and capable could have a direct effect on their future prospects. Equipping every child across the school system with a digital toolkit could also help reduce digital skills gaps later in life.
Teachers are the first route to delivering digital education. Did you know that nearly 25% of teachers had received no training in the use of technology (for literacy in this content)? There is a huge cohort of teachers in the UK, and not all will be as digital proficient as each other. Have a look at our article on Improving Technology Adoption Amongst Teachers and see if your teaching staff might need any extra training to ensure they’re at the forefront of technology themselves.
All aspects of life are turning increasingly online. Aside from the elements of safety and future prospects, being a good digital citizen (knowing how to conduct yourself online) is now crucially important to functioning well in society. The next generation must grow into adults who know how to navigate the online world productively and to best effect.
While students may know how to use technology more confidently than their educators, they still may not have developed the understanding of how to apply it in every aspect of life. Amongst other things, students need to learn about:
- digital etiquette and law
- how to choose the right communication tools
- how to evaluate online materials
- purchasing online
- their privacy rights and freedoms
- how and when to switch off
As you can see, the benefits of equipping children with digital skills from an early age are clear. Children who turn into adults who know how to stay safe, can conduct themselves as capable citizens and have limitless future prospects are what we need to continue progressing as a society.
At M-Tech, we believe in developing learning environments which fully explore the breadth of technology on offer today. A starting point to achieving advanced digital literacy is ensuring schools are kitted out effectively. We are happy to offer our help and expertise on the many options available to improving your education technology provision.
Our specialist team have been working in the education space for over 15 years. We are always happy to share the knowledge they’ve gained to date. If you’d like a brief overview of what we do for schools, you can download our infographic here.