The pandemic is increasing the importance of digital skills – Digital literacy education is insufficient in many European countries

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed European countries to assess their digital needs and invest more in teaching the skills associated with digital literacy. Most Finnish teachers are well versed in the basic digital skills, but there is a need for further training.

Last spring, the Europe-wide Youth Skills programme surveyed the views of European education and labour market specialists on the digital skills of citizens and the development of those skills.

In many countries, the quality and effectiveness of measures aimed at improving digital skills are considered insufficient and the related offerings unequal. There is great variance both between and within individual countries in the availability of the tools, resources and education needed for acquiring digital skills.

Coronavirus crisis rouses investment in digital education

The specialists, representing Finland, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland and Portugal, were interviewed in May 2020, when the coronavirus crisis had already had unparalleled effects in both Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Many of the interviewees believed that the crisis can serve as a wake-up call for governments to reassess their digital needs and invest more in education offered to all, thus providing a potential boost to digital literacy.

The development of digital skills and digital literacy concerns not only the education system, but learning the skills is also important for all citizens, as an increasing amount of everyday activities is becoming digitalised.

Focus on the development of teachers’ digital skills

In Finland, the Youth Skills project is coordinated by the University of Helsinki. Professor of Education Katariina Salmela-Aro from the University of Helsinki, the national project leader, considers it important that digital skills are taught in school. School should spark an interest in developing digital skills, and the development of teachers’ digital skills should be brought to the fore.

“At the same time, the significance of key socio-emotional skills is increasing in the digital environment. Grit, curiosity, resilience and cooperation skills are needed in the digital environment now more than ever.”

Salmela-Aro emphasises the necessity of digital skills for people to feel they are part of society. These are skills that can be learned just as well by younger and older people, and the time for investing in them is now.

Improving digital competences

The report includes recommendations targeted to different groups:

Policymakers and regulators: Coherent educational policies in regard to digital skills; fine-tuning the national school curricula with young people’s lives and the expectations for the future labour market; more opportunities for all citizens to develop or enhance their digital skills; investment in technical equipment as well as more initiatives to help families to be able to offer the guidance their children require.

Educators: Recognition of the key role of the formal educational sector; a focus on both technical and non-technical aspects of digital education; the need for schools and teachers to stay up-to-date with technological innovations and trends regarding young people’s digital uses; a closer coordination between the educational sector and the labour market.

Families: Parents should be well equipped to guide their children’s online activities; they should also be aware that they are role models for their children while children and young people should learn to take on a more active role in their own digital literacy education.

Information about the project

The Youth SKILLS (ySKILLS) is a large international research project, a HORIZON 2020, whose aim is to understand what kinds of skills are needed among children and youth so that the long-term positive impact of the digital environment can be maximised. The project will provide recommendations for strategies that can be used by children, parents, schools, and people working with and for children to develop skills that will maximise positive opportunities and minimise the risk of harm.

Led by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), the project includes 14 Universities from 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, The Netherlands and United Kingdom) and European Schoolnet, a network of 34 Ministries of Education, who will actively engage in meeting the objectives of the project.

Report available online

For accessing the full Report on Interviews with Experts on Digital Skills in Schools and on the Labour Market, see the ySKILLS project website.