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Report on Interviews with Experts on Digital Skills in Schools and on the Labour Market

Donoso, Verónica; Pyżalski, Jacek; Walter, Natalia; Retzmann, Nike; Iwanicka, Agnieszka; d'Haenens, Leen; Bartkowiak, Katarzyna

The ySKILLS project seeks to better understand which skills 12-17-year-olds must obtain to knowingly, and critically use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for their wellbeing, education and social life, and to improve existing knowledge as regards how children and youth can build resilience against negative impacts. As part of Work Package 3 Digital Skills: Actors and Factors of the ySKILLS project, this report aims to contribute a deeper knowledge on (1) the (digital) skills that youth need in the 21st century and (2) the role of digital skills education in formal (e.g., the school), informal (e.g., an extracurricular coding course) and non-formal (e.g., home) learning settings. Against this background, 34 interviews with experts from the educational sector and the labour market were carried out in six European countries: Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland and Portugal.

As a result of their professional and personal experiences, these experts were able to provide deep insights into the impact of digital technologies in the lives of young people. Their views are, thus, a valuable resource to provide evidence-based recommendations and strategies for key stakeholder groups to promote digital skills and wellbeing. In addition, experts’ insights provide knowledge that can help improve the measurement of digital skills.

Many experts interviewed highlighted that digital skills have increasingly become an integral part of people’s lives. Mastering digital skills is perceived as vital for being able to take advantage of the opportunities ICTs provide and minimising potential risks. As the interviews were carried out in April and May 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, many of the interviewees reflected on how this crisis and the consequent ‘social distancing’ had impacted the labour market and education, when, all of a sudden, learning and working had become essentially digital. Several experts noted, however, that access to the necessary tools, resources and education in this field varies greatly, not only across but also within countries. The quality and effectiveness of initiatives meant to build digital skills are, according to the respondents, often deficient and inconsistent.

Although our interviews concentrated on the role of digital skills for the lives of children and adolescents, many experts also observed a deficiency of adequate programmes to develop the digital skills of adults, especially the elderly. In the light of an advancing digital transformation of the economy and society in which digital skills are needed for a growing number of daily activities as well as civic participation, this was regarded as highly problematic. Experts emphasised that it is crucial to develop strategies to reduce existing inequalities which are only reinforced by digitisation.

Consequently, it is an important challenge for governments nowadays to ensure that all citizens have access to effective and meaningful training and education in the field of digital literacy. The provision of access to digital technologies and the Internet can only be seen as a starting point. Systematic approaches and effective collaboration and coordination of various stakeholders, policy makers, academics, the private economic sector, educational stakeholders, practitioners, and civil society are needed to support the development of digital skills and, thereby, equip people with the skills needed for the 21st century.

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