Digital Literacy for children scoping paper by UNICEF suggests EC DigComp framework as the principle way forward
Unicef has presented a paper with the results of a scoping exercise on children’s digital literacy that has been undertaken with the following objectives:
- to understand the current digital literacy policy and practice landscape;
- to highlight existing competence frameworks and how they can be adapted to UNICEF’s needs;
- to analyse the needs and efforts of UNICEF country offices; and
- to reflect on policy and programme recommendations, including adefinition of digital literacy for UNICEF.
While discussing the most appropriate digital literacy competence framework − or combination of frameworks − that UNICEF could use to support the development of coordinated and meaningful initiatives in the field of children’s digital literacy, two main considerations emerged:
- The digital literacy competence framework must be technology-neutral. This means that competencies should not solely be related to technology and platforms, because these will evolve with time. And in some aspects they should be related not to the use but to the understanding of technology as, when IoT and AI systems will become embedded in our everyday environments, they will lessen the need for operational digital skills and increase the need for critical ones (O’Reilly 2017). Within increasingly data-driven societies, where users will have limited control over what
content is delivered and created, having a critical understanding of the mechanisms behind technological solutions and platforms will probably become more important than being able to practically use ICT tools (Van Deursen and Mossberger, 2018).
- The digital literacy competence framework must be flexible enough to be applied to different contexts. This means that the framework would have to accommodate cultural and linguistic specificities, allowing a socially appropriate use of technology. This can be done by privileging the macro competency areas, instead of the detailed description of the competencies, that need to be adaptable to the different contexts. These macro areas are quite well established and overlap within the four frameworks presented earlier, but must be adapted for different age groups of children and
different contexts. A way to guarantee framework adaptability is to distinguish skills from expected outcomes (such as safety, well-being or employability), since in different contexts and at different ages different competencies are important to achieve similar outcomes. As an example, the key outcome of being safe online, that is common to all children throughout the world, can be achieved through different sets of competencies for younger or older children, or for children in different developing contexts. Such an approach would also help to instill among children − at the appropriate age − the motivation to engage with “the civic, informational and creative activities online that are heralded as the opportunities of the digital age” (Livingstone et al. 2019).
Starting from these two assumptions, we recommend that UNICEF should not develop its own digital literacy competence framework, but rather use existing and well-fitting frameworks and add value to them through a mechanism of contextual adaptation support to implementation that is integrated in the organization’s existing work. These frameworks need to be adapted to take into account the proposed child-specific definition.
Two digital literacy competence frameworks are proposed for use by UNICEF in the short term:
- DigComp is a widely implemented framework that could be used when a detailed description of the different proficiency levels of ICT competencies is required. The advantages of this framework are its maturity, its applicability to children, and the fact that it is accompanied by clear guidelines for implementation based on lessons learned. Further, while it was created for the European context, it has been used in countries outside Europe, such as Costa Rica.
- In parallel, the Digital Kids Asia-Pacific competence framework could be used in contexts where a citizenship approach is to be preferred. The advantages of this framework are that it was developed specifically for children and for developing country settings (it was developed for the Asia Pacific region but can easily be adapted to other regions) and the fact that it has been validated in four countries.
These two proposed digital literacy frameworks are compatible with the most widely used private sector frameworks such as ICDL (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2018a), are already in use, and will be further developed and updated by their respective authoring organizations, with whom UNICEF should engage in a collaborative partnership.