Digital Literacy in a EU context

Having first started work on issues relating to digital literacy in 2008-9 I’ve tended to focus at a national (and mainly schools-related) policy level. When I completed a review on digital literacy for Becta in 2009 I had no idea that the EU was about to start a two year project to investigate what they call ‘digital competence’.

I’m chuffed to have been invited to Seville at the end of this month to talk to the EU project officers. In preparing for this I’m learning a lot about the EU’s perspective on digital literacy. I thought it might be handy to blog some of this, not least because it’s helped me to get to grips with all the policy and acronyms!

EU policy, digital literacy, and the eight key competences
In 2000 the EU Council concluded that a European framework should define the new basic skills to be provided through lifelong learning, as a key measure in Europe’s response to globalisation and the shift to knowledge-based economies. They emphasised the need for us all to realise that now – and for the foreseeable future – “people are Europe’s biggest asset”.

Member states developed the idea of ‘key competences’ as part of their lifelong learning strategies. They envisaged that such competences, once identified, could become embedded within the educational policy of all member states – both within initial school-based education, teacher-training, adult and work-based learning, and in support for the disadvantaged.

In 2006, after what I can only imagine to be hundreds of hours of meetings (!) they identified 8 key competences which “all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment”. The 8 competences are as follows:
1. Communication in the mother tongue
2. Communication in foreign languages
3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology
4. Digital competence
5. Learning to learn
6. Social and civic competences
7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
8. Cultural awareness and expression

It is the fourth of these – digital competence – which encompasses what we call ‘digital literacy’. They broadly define digital competence as “the confident, critical and creative use of ICT to achieve goals related to work, employability, learning, leisure, inclusion and/or participation in society“.

Once identified, the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) were tasked with completing work packages to clarify the issues relating to each competence. Digital Competence was given to the JRC’s ‘Institute for Prospective Technological Studies’ (aka the JRC-IPTS!). Specifically, the JRC-IPTS have been asked to identify and validate a Europe-wide definition, a key components ‘framework’, and implementation roadmap for digital competency.

The EU “Digital Competence” Project is ongoing. They have completed a thorough literature review, and have published a summary document which also proposes a ‘conceptual model of digital competence’.

Phew! OK, so where do I come in? Because in 2009-10 I completed a very similar (smaller!) project for Becta…

The Becta v EU project structure
The Becta (2008-10) and EU (2010-12) projects were/are very similar: both started with an international review of current thinking (links here to summary, full review, catalogue of evidence), and both wanted to create a framework/model that describes how to teach people to become digitally literate.

There are some slight differences between the projects: Becta’s focus was to then create resources for schools, developed mainly by Sarah Payton and her team from Futurelab – for example see their “Digital Literacy across the Curriculum” handbook and Professional Development resource page. I also created a couple of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 introductory packs for teachers and students (see separate blog post).

The EU project is instead focussing at a policy level; aiming to identify how to implement this framework into formal and informal education in practice – hence why they have organised a consultation between digital literacy folk and policy holders.

Do you have anything you want to say about the EU Digital Competence findings so far?
It’s this EU consultation that I’ve been invited to at the end of this month. I’m currently trying to review the UK’s current status in this regard, for example by talking to the Jisc team about their ‘Developing Digital Literacies’ project, and Sarah Payton about her British Library ‘Digital Pathways’ work.

I would be really interested to hear any thoughts you might have about the EU Digital Competence work. My aim is to act as a facilitator, and I hope to create links between the EU project and initiatives/people here in the UK.

(To ease any furrowed brows, I hear-by publicly promise not to nick any ideas and pass them off as mine own – this is an altruistic process!)

Comments ( 3 )
  • Doug Belshaw says:

    Hi Tabetha. I did some digging around the way the EU equates ‘digital literacy’ and ‘digital competence’ and came up with some findings about how (lobbying for) media literacy has pushed out pretty much everything else in the EU new literacies landscape:


    Hope it’s of some help. 🙂

  • Tabetha says:

    Hi Doug. Thanks for your comments and link.
    I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the current EU work, in that it definitely encompasses our ‘wider’ view of digital literacy. In 2008-9 Ofcom were a bit of a pain in trying to push for a narrow definition, hence why I had a slide to compare the specific differences between digital and media literacy contexts at the Shock of the Old conference (http://tinyurl.com/pyqu99). Essentially the Becta v Ofcom argument that ensued was like two blind men feeling different bits of the same elephant. It all came down to context.
    Ofcom had a lot of clout – in fact Becta and I were invited up there for a meeting in which they tried to get me to see the ‘error of my diglit definition ways’! It didn’t work but the lunch was nice. After my review and Futurelab’s work (done in parallel, which is how I met @notyap) Becta backed us up and stuck with a wide definition of digital literacy. Interestingly, the boss of that project has now transferred to a senior role in the DfE as Head of Humanities, Arts & Languages. He’s a good egg and I know he does follow our posts, so I have faith that all will not be forgotten!
    As for the EU folk, check out their review and model http://ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=4699. OK so I think they have rather over-complicated the whole thing – their model has way too many components (see summary diagram, page 6) but essentially they are trying to include: ‘communication and collaboration’, ‘information management’, ‘learning and problem solving’, and ‘meaningful participation’. So they certainly are not confining themselves to a ‘consumptive’ media literacy context.
    I say this now of course, but this is before the Seville trip. I may need to eat my words :o)

  • [RECORDING] A History of Digital Literacy in the UK and EU : JISC e-Learning Programmes says:

    […] You may find this blog post by Tabetha helpful about digital literacy in the EU May 9, 2012 | Filed Under Developing Digital […]

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