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The recently published ‘Driving the skills agenda: Preparing students for the future’ Economist Intelligence Unit report investigates how the extent to which digital literacy is taught in education systems is changing, and whether the current focus in schools aligns with the needs of the workplace. They gathered an advisory board made up of education experts, and surveyed business executives, teachers, and students aged 11 – 25 worldwide to collate a data-driven approach to highlighting gaps in digital literacy and solutions to better support students as they prepare for their future.

For over ten years, JCS Online Resources has been a champion of digital literacy and recognises the strong need for trusted online resources, now more so than ever before. For us, the report highlighted some key areas in which we can support schools as they navigate a constantly shifting and increasingly complex digital world.

Quote - 'Traditionally, teachers have been paid for their skill in imparting knowledge [...] their role is now about teaching how to work effectively. Teachers need to develop these skills themselves.' - Prof Patrick Griffin, Melbourne University

Teachers and digital literacy

One of the key blockers identified within the report is the discrepancy between teachers’ digital literacy and students’, with 58% of teachers surveyed finding that students are more confident with technology advances than they are and that 25% of teachers are not confident in their ability to use the technological tools they have access to in school. This gap is a direct result of a lack of digital-focused teacher training, which ultimately prevents teachers from being what they rightfully should be – pioneers of educational technology. Instead, teachers are having to keep up with a rapidly changing digital world rather than leading the way.

Graph x2 - First showing that only 10% of teachers surveyed disagree that 'Technological advances have changed the way I teach', while the rest somewhat or strongly agree. Second graph demonstrates that 58% agree and 38% disagree that students often have a more advanced understanding of technology than their teacher does

Providing teachers with high-quality CPD resources is an ideal way of addressing this issue. By governments and schools prioritising investment in teachers’ professional development through providing access to platforms such as TeachingTimes, teachers will be able to explore technology-focused training, and schools will start to see gaps in digital literacy knowledge begin to close. They will gain a more empowered workforce who can confidently champion digital literacy and better support their students.

Quote - 'The best way to teach 21st-century skills is to embed them in various aspects of the curriculum'. Sean Rush, President and CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide

Key workplace skills

Digital literacy is often viewed as a 21st-century skill, set apart from a more traditional focus on literacy and numeracy. However, digital literacy holds transformative power when interwoven with conventional learning. At their core, every subject taught in schools not only provides students with a robust knowledge of the subject itself but should also be considered an opportunity to incorporate skills building. Students can think critically and creatively, develop their problem-solving and research skills, and take part in group work, in doing so honing their communication, teamwork, and leadership skills. So, while engaging with their mandated curriculum, students can at the same time be strengthening their employability.

From the report, we learn that the most in-demand skills in the workplace are problem-solving, team working and communication. In a world still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, it has never been more critical that these types of skills can still be developed, whether in person or through digital learning when in-person learning has been disrupted.

Graphs x2 - First one shows top three current most in-demand skills which are communication, teamworking, and problem solving. Graph 2 shows top 3 future most in-demand skills which are digital literacy, creativity, and entrepreneurship

Surveyed business executives also shared that they expect creativity, entrepreneurship, and digital literacy to be essential skills for those who will be working in the future. However, despite most employers (50%) surveyed about future demand citing these as growing in importance, very few respondents overall list these skills as currently vital, thereby identifying a disconnect between current skills building in school and what future employers will expect from them upon entering the workplace.

Quote - "Education systems need to provide students with hands-on learning that mirrors real-world problems and work opportunities in an interdisciplinary way" - Dr Helen Soule, Executive Director of Partnership of 21st Century Skills

Independent learning

The report also illuminates that both students and executives recognise a skills gap, with 52% of executives confirming this, and 56% of 18–25-year-olds echoing the sentiment, not believing that their education is providing them with the skills they need to enter their country’s workforce. Students are already pursuing alternative avenues outside of school to develop skills in areas such as entrepreneurship, leadership, and digital literacy, becoming increasingly independent as a result. Schools must put the best resources in place to support all students in their learning journeys outside of the classroom as well as within, to ensure that their students all have an equal opportunity to take their professional development into their own hands. This is where dynamic, high-quality digital resources are invaluable, as they can be used in the classroom as well as outside.

Digital resources are key to widening access to trusted research sources, as well as supporting the building of essential skills. Platforms such as JSTOR are brilliant for students developing their research and problem-solving skills, and resources such as Cite them right and Source Reference are ideal for familiarizing students with key referencing and citation skills ahead of pursuing further education. With the rise of digital resources, innovative new platforms are increasingly popular, such as Bloomsbury’s suite of digital libraries including the dynamic Drama Online. Project-based resources such as Extend Education’s IMPACT are excellent for supporting students to build teamwork, creativity, and leadership skills.

Graph showing the changes students would like to see in their school from #1 to #6. 1.More lessons where they can use technology 2. More lessons where they can talk about their own ideas 3. Homework that is more interesting 4. More or better feedback from teachers on how to improve their work 5. More advice or support on how to get a job or go to university 6. More opportunities to study in another country

Overall, the challenge of bridging the digital literacy gap can be addressed in several ways:

  • By acknowledging the transforming role of a teacher and the importance of CPD to help teachers build their digital literacy, they can confidently lead the way for their students.
  • Schools must recognise the importance of creating the opportunity for skills development for students. These skills cannot be taught separately from the curriculum, but instead, need to be embedded into teaching.
  • By building on the existing motivation of many students who seek to develop their skills independently, all students must have the same opportunity to do so through high-quality, trusted resources that they can access in and out of the classroom.

Digital resources are unrivalled in providing that opportunity and are worth investing in schools at a global level. If you want to find out how JCS Online Resources can support you as you bridge the digital literacy gap in your school, you can request a call back from a member of our dedicated sales team.

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