Youth Skills report highlights the need to invest in people
International research group studying the digital competence of European adolescents in the course of the ySKILLS project reported unequal access to digital tools and uneven level of digital literacy across countries.
In the course of the project which included the University of Tartu as one of the partners, researchers interviewed 34 experts of the education sector and the labour market from Estonia, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Germany and Finland during the first wave of the Covid‑19 pandemic. The crisis brought to light a wide spectrum of digital needs as well as the bottlenecks in meeting such needs.
Research Fellow in Sociology Mai Beilmann is a member of the ySKILLS Estonian research group, who interviewed the Estonian experts. She said that according to Estonian researchers, teachers and IT experts, the strategic decisions made and targets set by the government are generally satisfactory, but it is of critical importance to ensure permanent funding for the development of this area.
“It is necessary to shift from the technology-centric mindset towards human-centeredness,” said Mai Beilmann. “New and good technological solutions, equipment and platforms alone will do nothing unless sufficient investments are made in people – their knowledge, skills and the conditions and methodology of applying them.”
She gave the example that a school may buy the newest and fastest technological devices but if the learning process remains the same, the tools will be of no use. Thus, a complete change requires good preparation and investment in people.
Beilmann added that Estonian and Finnish experts were the most positively minded of the representatives of the six countries. The experts from Italy, Poland, Portugal and Germany were much more critical about the schools’ IT infrastructure. They also pointed out that a family’s financial possibilities have a strong impact on the digital coping of children and youths. The experts’ views on the skills of the youths and the activities of schools suggest that in Estonia and Finland, the school environment helps to better balance the uneven home situation and reduce the digital divide.
In the context of the study, the experts were also asked to explain the criteria for digitally skilled people who are able to meet the expectations and needs of the 21st-century labour market and education.
Mai Beilmann explained that it will no longer be primary to know how to professionally use all kinds of smart devices. “Instead, experts both in Estonia and other European countries mentioned the importance of problem-solving skills, cyber hygiene, the ability to critically evaluate information found online, communication skills and netiquette, and behaving responsibly, protecting one’s own and others’ (mental) health in various online environments. A few experts found that combining social skills and readiness to use new technological solutions is even more important than the technical skills. Technology and methods of operation change rapidly, and it is necessary to learn to use specific equipment and applications anyway,” Beilmann said and pointed out that the need for critical thinking, good relationships and collaboration will not go anywhere.
According to the ySKILLS study, it is necessary to get rid of the ingrained mentality in the society as if the responsibility for teaching and acquiring digital skills lies with the school (and increasingly, with the home). There are unused opportunities in both non-formal education and lifelong learning, where the worthwhile initiatives and programmes may continue and evolve over time.
The report on interviews with experts is available on the project website.
The Youth Skills is a comprehensive international research project studying the knowledge and skills of children and adolescents in order to better understand how to purposefully use information and communication technology towards greater wellbeing, and how to cope with its negative impacts.
The project participants include the Institute of Social Studies of the University of Tartu, and 13 universities from 12 countries (Austria, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Germany and United Kingdom), and the European Schoolnet. The lead partner of the project is the Catholic University of Leuven.
Further information: Mai Beilmann, Research Fellow in Sociology, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Tartu, +372 737 6156, mai.beilmann [ät] ut.ee