Digital literacy at school: what does it depend on?

  • Awareness
  • 02/12/2019
  • Estonian Safer Internet Centre

The Estonian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) shares a concise overview about a discussion published in the Estonian newspaper Õpetajate Leht on the inclusion of digital literacy and basic digital skills in schools across the country.

Nowadays, globally, schools are partially equipped with technology, and subject classes and hobby classes take place in a digital environment. However, the situation with digital literacy and informatics teaching remains unclear. In addition to the PISA measurements, it is necessary to create state-regulated tests in informatics, enabling countries to better understand their strengths and weaknesses, notably in light of the European Commission's model DIGCOMP, and to adopt better practices in that regard.

Digital literacy could be a separate subject, or it could be distributed within other subjects. For example, in language learning, digital techniques can be used to send letters and write essays; in literature, to create blogs and video clips; in mathematics, to create charts and graphs; in natural sciences, to conduct experiments in a digital environment; in language learning, to develop international cooperation; in arts and music, to perform creative activities, and so on. Enthusiastic teachers have found their way to social media groups where they share materials. In Estonia, the state has supported the establishment of e-Koolikott (the "digital school bag") and There is also a Facebook community group called "Nutitund igasse kooli" ("A smart lesson for every school") – these are examples of opportunities for developing digital skills.

There are schools where digital literacy is acquired in "classic" subjects, but there are also those where it is a separate subject – informatics. A distinction must be made between the basic levels of digital literacy and informatics, the so-called different ends of the same pool. The shallow part belongs to the bathers and the deeper one to those who have a talent for information technology. Informatics teachers help create a system in the child's head, help them learn to notice problems and analyse, solve and handle them safely.

On the other hand, it is regrettable that no school leader dares notify a teacher who has average work results and with whom children and parents are more or less satisfied, but who does not use digital tools, just because if the teacher chooses to leave the school, it is difficult to find a replacement. Birgy Lorenz, Digital Manager at Pelgulinna Gymnasium, says this is the reason why schools should not be allowed to act on their own in teaching digital literacy and using technology: "While each institution wants the best, the resources in many places are used improperly – the devices stay in the cupboard, the teacher only teaches their favourite themes or does things just to get them done."

Today, there is a situation in Estonia where digital literacy is taught irregularly to children: when a specific campaign is underway (like in October and February). Few schools have made the effort to create a thematic hobby subject or school subject. Lorenz, who is conducting a study called Küberpähkel (at the Tallinn University of Technology) about cybersecurity and online safety, dares to say that schools still need to work on properly teaching cybersecurity. "There are huge gaps in the teaching of digital literacy and teachers' own digital literacy," Lorenz says.

Perhaps in response to the title question: we have some stars who are doing a lot of work and setting an example for others, but this skill will not find its way to every school and child today. However, the ice is starting to melt – schools are becoming aware that they need to improve, trainings are being requested, materials are being searched for, but this is not yet systematic.

The digital literacy of schools ultimately depends on the ability of each teacher and school to use technology and teach it in a safe, consistent and systematic manner. With the current situation, no one can be satisfied in Estonia or in Europe.

Find out more information about the work of the Estonian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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