In 2006, EU member states set themselves an ambitious objective…
The objective was: to half the digital literacy gaps between ‘at risk groups’ and the average population by 2010. Having committed themselves to turning Europe into the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by the end of the decade, it became important to ensure that people were not going to be left behind and that employers have access to the skills driving the anticipated economic growth.
To this end, the EU and the member states began to implement a comprehensive set of policies aiming to increase the digital literacy levels among European people. By and large, the early measures reflected a functional understanding of digital literacy which simply refers to a person’s ability to use hardware and software effectively. Targeting predominantly population groups that data suggest are particularly affected by digital illiteracy (the unemployed, the disabled, women and older people), measures focuses on providing basic ICT skills and ensuring that all pupils were digitally literate upon leaving school.
Increasingly, however, the discourse in the EU and the member states is moving towards an understanding of digital literacy mostly simply described as ‘media literacy’. As such, it encompasses a significant cognitive and evaluative dimension lacking from the functional understanding. The most recent initiatives undertaken by the European Commission as part of the recent i2010 programme are under this title, as well as in the member states, where media literacy was initially used only by some countries in relation to ICT training at schools.
A more sophisticated understanding of digital literacy, however, requires more sophisticated approaches to measuring success. One of the key challenges for the near future is therefore to find indicators that are less broad-brush and more able to deal with the diverse subject and implementation modes required to make digital literacy policies a success. It is only when we gain a better understanding of what works and what does not that we can start to make inroads into the persistent digital illiteracy in Europe today.