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How do we improve digital skills learning in schools?

6 Jul 2023Vodafone Foundation news
3 minute read

Joakim Reiter, Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer, Vodafone, and Vodafone Foundation Trustee

Arie has just turned 12. He’s in a warm, stuffy classroom, Rotterdam, daydreaming of a long summer break. In six weeks, Arie returns for ‘big’ school. He’ll have a tablet to work on, enjoy superfast connectivity and start coding lessons for the first time.

Alisa is a little older. At 13, she’s in her second year of high school, no longer the ‘new kid’. She writes her notes on paper. The only code she’s learned about is Morse, in a history lesson last term. Alisa is in Rome.

Fast-forward five years. Arie’s looking at universities. He wants to become a software engineer — one of Europe’s most in-demand jobs — and has a good base understanding of coding languages like Python.

Vodafone Foundation digital skills

Alisa isn’t going to university. The institutions she’s looked at have been withdrawing humanities subjects due to ‘low demand’. The world has changed, she’s told, and other options are available — has she considered an unpaid internship?

These characters are fictional. But the situations they face are reality for many young people in Europe. In a new study by Vodafone Foundation , 88 percent of parents in the Netherlands said their child has access to digital tools for learning at school. In Italy, that figure fell to 70 percent. In Hungary, even less.

The study suggests only half the schools in Europe offer any form of online teaching.

And of those, only half again provide pupils with a digital device to access that teaching.

This is all despite most parents (85 percent) saying digital skills are very important for their child’s future. Parents (73 percent) also support a standardized approach across the EU for teaching digital skills — not just specialisms like coding, but basic competencies like searching for information and assessing its credibility.

Let’s rewind five years. It’s January 2018, and the EU has just published its first action plan for digital education. Member countries should encourage schools to adopt high-speed broadband, it says. Coding classes, artificial intelligence and learning analytics pilots should be introduced. Maybe it’s in 2023 — the European Year of Skills — that the EU will manage to persuade its governments to get serious about meeting those ambitions.

Vodafone Foundation digital skills

Do you believe your child should have access to world-class digital infrastructure at school? Should they be learning digital skills for the future? Should they have the same opportunities to learn those skills as other children in Europe?

These are questions that shouldn’t need to be asked.

The European Commission has set targets to ensure that 80 percent of adults have basic digital skills by 2025.

It wants to reduce the level of 13 and 14-year-olds who underperform in computing and digital literacy from 30 percent (2019) to 15 percent in 2030.

Vodafone Foundation is working with schools and education authorities to help meet these targets. Vodafone Foundation is investing over €20 million to expand programs like SkillsUpload Jr, aiming to build digital capabilities, knowhow and confidence, regardless of their age, background or where they call home. We have already reached 7.8 million educators and students against our overall target of 14 million.

To ensure opportunities are open to all young people in Europe, we need governments across member countries to truly ‘buy in’ to EU ambitions.

The European Union can build on its targets and the progress made so far by introducing simple, standardized guidelines on how digital skills can be built into state education systems.

Those guidelines should start with funding — more should be made available by governments to improve digital infrastructure in schools. They should also focus on curricula — digital skills should be afforded space in school timetables but should also play a role within subjects like science, math and languages.

Vodafone Foundation digital skills

The digital skills we’re talking about here are universal — the same across member countries. Alisa could be learning the same coding languages in Italy that Arie was in the Netherlands. We see no reason why a standardized approach to digital education couldn’t be applied across the Continent — with the same objectives, guidelines to implementation and measurement of outcomes.

Our children deserve equal access to the digital opportunities of the future. Vodafone Foundation stands ready to support governments and schools in making sure they do.

This article was first published in POLITICO.

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