Digital technologies now underpin effective participation in key areas of life and work. In addition to technology access, the skills and competencies needed to make use of digital technology and benefit from its growing power and functionality have never been more essential.
Although definitions vary, digital skills and competencies are best understood as existing on a graduated continuum from basic functional skills to higher level, specialist skills.
The term ‘digital skills’ refers to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviours, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings.
These skills and competencies are interconnected and broadly complementary. They are also, in today’s technology-saturated communities, foundational to full participation in society and, as such, need to be developed and refined over time
and according to the personal and professional circumstances of individuals.
Countries are increasingly seeking to map and define digital skills and competencies that change constantly because of technological advancements. These flexible maps and definitions provide a basis for the development of inclusive, equitable and sustainable educational interventions.
Current education practices and policies
The question of how digital skills and competencies can be developed by all people — young and old, girls and boys, rich and poor — on a sustainable basis is an ongoing challenge for governments around the world.
Clearly, education and training are key ingredients of efforts to develop digital skills. Digital skills development takes place across a full range of education contexts: from formal institutions such as schools, colleges and universities to non-formal provision and training, and various forms of self-directed and informal learning.
Promising trends that encompass both education provision and policy-making include efforts to:
• Ensure digital literacy for all: National ‘digital literacy for all’ initiatives; integration of digital skills development into school curricula; networks of information and communication technology (ICT) labs and community learning centres for out-of-school children and those without basic digital skills; and informal peer-mentoring programmes.
• Teach computer programming and coding skills to children and young people: Inclusion of coding in national school curricula; outside- school coding clubs; competitions and campaigns; and the subsidized distribution of low-cost computers with pre-loaded courses and applications.
• Facilitate the development of digital skills needed to enter ICT professions: National employability strategies; enhanced TVET courses; industry-specific skills or re-skilling training for unemployed and other marginalized groups; boot camps and other forms of rapid skills development; and ‘digital livelihoods’ provision.
• Foster ‘soft’ and ‘complementary’ digital skills: Incorporation of ‘twenty- first century skills’ into national curricula; development and promotion of practical programmes that aim to inform and safeguard digital safety; implications of online activities; development of digital literacy and citizenship; knowledge of digital rights; and awareness of how digital technology, big data and algorithms shape society.
An overview of skills required for the digital society and digital economy
These trends and characteristics are all having a significant influence on
the skills that are seen to be necessary for effective participation in the digital society and digital economy. In particular, the ongoing development of digital technology along these lines is associated with a diversifying and graduated set of skills, competencies and abilities. These can be described in terms of three broad but distinct areas:
1. Basic functional digital skills:Accessing and engaging with digital technologies
2. Generic digital skills: Using digital technologies in meaningful and bene cial ways
3. ‘Higher level’ skills: using digital technology in empowering and transformative ways