New Approaches to Digital Literacy and the Digital Skills Gap

by Lisa Lindgren

posted on 11-22-2016

Posted by John Jolliffe, European Government Relations Lead

Across the world, governments are reflecting on the kinds of digital skills that their citizens will need to drive a successful, globally-connected, digital economy. The notion that there is “a digital skills gap” is now widely accepted. But are governments, employers and educational institutions getting the whole picture?

At one end of the spectrum, industry has provided a wealth of data forecasting shortages in specific categories of highly-skilled ICT professionals. Governments have responded by promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects – including computer science and coding (programming) – which are seen as vital to modern workforce employability.

At the other end of the spectrum, in recognition that not everyone needs to become a computer scientist, most governments accept there is a need to equip all citizens with a basic level of “digital literacy” to ensure that they can perform basic online tasks safely and participate in a digital economy.

But focusing only on high end practitioner skills and generic digital literacy skills fails to address a much more complex digital skills phenomenon: the idea that today’s students, and tomorrow’s workers, are not just passive recipients of information. They are themselves becoming content makers, fluent in expressing and presenting their ideas to external audiences. They don’t just want to understand problems, but to produce solutions to problems; or just how to use a technology, but to apply it imaginatively to perform a task or produce something new. What’s needed is much deeper assessment of the role that creative digital technologies can play in enhancing long term employability or equipping citizens for participation in a digital economy.

The recent report “Digital Literacy. An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief” makes an important new contribution to this discussion. By offering a new definition of digital literacy, based on interviews with both employers and educational institutions, it raises awareness of this previously poorly understood digital skills gap. Because only by defining the problem can employers, schools and universities and governments begin to work together to address that gap.

Policy discourse around the need for, and benefits of, creative digital skills lags well behind the debate around STEM skills. There is little formal recognition at a government level of the role creative digital technologies can play in schools. But by better defining the problem, we can envisage a range of new initiatives to ensure that these skills are adequately promoted in the curriculum, in teacher development, in assessment practices and in learning content.

Adobe stands ready to work with governments, and other stakeholders, to continue to ensure that notions of digital literacy adequately address the skills needs of today’s students. And that government digital skills policies begin to take account of the particular value that creative digital skills can play in today’s society.

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