Supporting children's digital literacy from kindergarten – a priority for schools

  • Awareness
  • 17/12/2018
  • European Commission Joint Research Centre

Stéphane Chaudron, who works on research projects dedicated to Empowering Children Rights and Safety in emerging ICT at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (EC), reflects on the results of the latest study she has contributed to, with Rosanna Di Gioia and Monica Gemo, entitled "Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology – A qualitative study across Europe".

Schools are instrumental for promoting healthy and meaningful use of digital devices at school but also at home. Indeed, using digital technologies for learning in schools improves parents' perceptions of these technologies, which in turn helps children's digital learning and supports a healthier and more meaningful use of digital devices.

This is among the results conclusion of a large EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) study on the use of digital technologies of children aged 0-8 based on interviews with 234 families in 21 countries, carried out between September 2014 and April 2017. The study deals with first children's usage, perceptions of the digital technologies and their digital skills in the home context but also on parent's perceptions, attitudes, and strategies. This study stems from the fact that children aged 0-8 are showing particularly increased patterns of internet use and most children under the age of 2 in developed countries have an online presence (or digital footprint) through their parents. Yet, there is a lack of research on the digital skills of children this age, that could serve as a basis for efficient educational strategies, able to foster children's digital literacy and online wellbeing.

Parents' attitudes towards digital technologies

At first, the study underlines the importance of parents' attitudes towards digital technologies in the strategies they adopt towards their children's use of digital tools, and thus also in shaping their children's digital skills. Parental strategies to children's use of digital devices - open, permissive, supportive, restrictive or ‘laissez faire' - rely on numerous interlinked factors, from the parents' skills, knowledge, attitudes and perceptions towards digital technologies to their personal experiences and socio-economic background, says the JRC report.

Indeed, favourable opinions about the pedagogical potential of digital media are mostly found among parents with more digital skills and confidence, most of medium and high socioeconomic status. On the contrary, parents that take the position of not encouraging the pedagogical use of digital tools, nor the articulation with school, are mostly less confident in the use of technology, more worried about possible consequence of mis- and overuse and tend to be from a lower socioeconomic status. Therefore, the playground is very uneven between families regarding children's digital skills, both for safeguarding them against online threats (regarding privacy, personal data, and harmful content) and for providing them with positive content, such as digital learning and creative opportunities.

The key role of schools in developing children's digital literacy

Then, the study highlights the important influence of school's digital pedagogy on parents' perceptions of the technology. Parents tend to support their children's digital learning opportunities more, and have more positive views of the technologies, if schools integrate meaningfully digital technologies in their homework requests. Furthermore, some parents underline that schools are in a strategic position to provide the guidance they need and believe that schools are key in developing the digital skills.

Based on sample studies from different EU countries, the JRC study confirms that schools can have a major influence on the acquisition of digital competences - including creative use, when digital technologies are integrated as active learning tools as opposed to mere information sources. Developing digital competence already at kindergarten level can also help to raise awareness on safety issues and build critical thinking among children regarding the content and devices that they use.

The JRC study on the use of digital technologies by young children urges schools and teachers to enhance children's digital and media literacy as early as possible, as the early years of childhood are key in developing children's digital competences and agency, and in building healthy and balanced attitudes towards the digital realm. Better focus on early childhood education and care (ECEC) is therefore essential.

For more details, read the full study "Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology – A qualitative study across Europe".

Find more information about the European Safer Internet Centres' (SICs) efforts – including through awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation – to foster children's digital literacy and online wellbeing throughout the continent.

Image credit: ©AdobeStock_Africa Studio

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