Anyone who has talked to me for any length of time over the past couple of years will have been hard pressed to have avoided my growing preoccupation with the UK's digital literacy agenda, or rather, lack of one. However, while I've been talking about this a lot, I haven't made many written remarks outside of policy contributions and consultations. Hopefully this brief post will act as a marker of progress rather than just a register of the current limitations of the UK education system.
A lot of progress has been made recently in terms of the e-safety agenda, for example with the publication in March of Dr. Byron's Safer Children in a Digital World, and the approval of all the reports recommendations by the UK Government, and the establishment of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) at the end of September this year. Additional moves toward modernising our Duty of Care towards pupils and staff, both providing and signposting support and in building awareness, responsibility and resilience in using technologies, has come in the form of e-safety provision within the QCA'a new curriculum and in the Department for Children, Schools and Families Cyberbullying Guidance that I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute to.
However, while it is a critical area of development and resourcing, e-safety alone is not enough. To regard it as anything except a critical element within a wider digital literacy framework, and to attempt to teach it alongside an antiquated, generally programme-specific ICT education is to short change our learners, and to fail to recognise the technological, social and economic shifts that have take place globally. To not integrate and model good practice in digital literacy has huge social consequences - from potentially disadvantaging individuals and communities in terms of social and economic opportunities, to the society-wide disadvantage we risk by not ensuring that everyone is in a position to make their voice and opinions heard within the law, and to engage technology as a way of bringing about community facilitation of all kinds, social organisation and change.
So what is digital literacy? Currently, it is a discussion that isn't happening, but which needs to be taking place nationally and publicly amongst the major organisational stakeholders (across government, industry, and education), informed by the local conversations of learners, parents, education sector workers, and employers.
Digital literacy then refers to a set of knowledge and competencies (including social skills and cultural competencies) required by technological, social and economic changes in society. It should covers a range of areas; skills and understandings that ensure everyone can get the most out of their engagement with technology. It includes e-safety and wellbeing, but also includes collaboration and communication skills, rights and responsibilities, ethical and environmental issues, commercial practices, privacy and security issues, digital identity and citizenship, along with finding, evaluating and applying information.
Some of these skills can be highly complex. However, there are ways of supporting even very young learners to understand important and relevant concepts, such as keeping oneself safe and helping others when using technologies. Conceptually, skills and behaviours supported within the framework of digital literacy should share the same ambitions as those outlined in Every Child Matters - being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well being.
These last couple of years have seen the establishment of an evidence base and a public recognition of the huge personal, professional and social impacts of new technologies. What many edtechs have been involved in is describing new social realities, practices and opportunities. What I'd dearly like to see now is a push forward from the work done by Ofcom, Childnet, and Becta (amongst many) in establishing the current state of play and an active engagement in developing new models and frameworks.