Supporting Your Pupils To Flourish In An Increasingly Digital World

By Al Kingsley

There are growing concerns within the sector that the current education system is preparing children for a world that may no longer exist by the time they reach adulthood. What can we do about it?

We are undoubtedly in an era in which rapid transformation is the order of the day; indeed, the very definition of the word rapid” is being reshaped, as each groundbreaking innovation increases the pace of change exponentially. Much ink has been spilled discussing the potential perils these innovations represent to education in particular, but arguably a much greater emphasis now needs to be placed on how the system can flex and adapt to meet these changes head on and embrace the potential benefits they promise to bring.

Whilst overall job postings decreased globally by 13% from 2021 to 2022, the number of tech jobs listed for the same period actually grew by 15%. In order to safeguard our young peoples future, we should be actively preparing them to enter the jobs market armed with the competencies and confidence being sought by businesses and organisations around the world.

To achieve this, we need to instigate a change in the ways students have the opportunity to develop digital skills throughout their education. Bringing digital skills into the classroom and embedding them throughout the curriculum is critical to cementing the ability to adapt to an ever-evolving world.

Technology can enhance and transform classroom learning whilst instilling essential digital skills. Business lessons can be supplemented with app building or website creation activities, giving them insights into branding and marketing as well as user experience and product design. Getting to grips with graphics and 3D modelling can bring science and geography lessons to life, and digital art software provides new avenues for young people to express their creativity.

These skills can give young people an invaluable chance to understand topics in greater depth, whilst also giving them hands-on experience to prepare them for workplaces in which technology will certainly be in use, regardless of the sector or industry.

Rather than relegating digital skills to IT lessons and the computer lab, embracing such skills across numerous subjects will make this a more engaging and dynamic process, whilst ensuring that these skills are cemented in studentsunderstanding. It is becoming increasingly clear that an ever-growing value will be placed on so-called soft skills”, such as communication and critical thinking.

The use of technology in the classroom can foster the development of these skills, providing opportunities for collaboration and communication between pupils, both within their school networks and with the wider world.

Whilst we should be encouraging more use of technology throughout the entire curriculum, we must also recognise that more can and must be done to protect children and young people as they navigate online spaces. Just as we keep them safe from physical harm, we should be doing the utmost to limit their exposure to digital dangers.

Ongoing discussions around the Online Safety Bill bring this to the fore, as the government endeavours to place duties of care on tech companies to protect users from harmful content. In the meantime, these harms can be limited on an individual basis within schools by simply blocking certain keywords or sites on the schools networks.

An even more effective step in digital safeguarding is the implementation of safeguarding software. Such software can, among other functions, appropriately monitor online activity and detect keywords which can identify concerning trends or indicate when a young person may be at risk.

However, in the same way we teach our children how to recognise physical dangers themselves and take steps autonomously to protect themselves – such as teaching them how to cross the road safely – we should also be giving them the knowledge and agency to do the same with online dangers.

For example, when and why safeguarding software is deployed should be communicated openly to help students gain awareness of the measures being taken to keep them safe. Additionally, software with informative pop ups to explain to students how their data is being handled i.e. why they are required to share certain information and informing them when they have deleted the data when its no longer required, will help them gain an understanding of responsible data handling and recognise risks.

Digital citizenship skills are also critically important in ensuring that our young people are responsible, careful users of the internet. This ought to include topics such as encouraging empathy and respect in online interactions, understanding how the internet works and ensuring students know how to correctly identify risks such as fake profiles. 

Not only does this protect them from online dangers, it also helps them to be on the lookout for ways in which they can support others to avoid harms – or even preventing them from engaging in harmful behaviours targeted towards others, such as harassment or bullying.

Digital citizenship skills also include encouraging young people to use technology in a way that benefits – or at least does not harm – their wellness. Digital wellness includes teaching children to place limits on their screen time and remain cognisant of their usage levels of social media or streaming services. Equipping young people with strategies to practice self-regulation and understand the limits between positive and negative online activities is paramount to raising a generation of engaged, competent and responsible digital citizens.

Online media literacy is another critical component of a strong digital skillset. This is particularly important from the perspective of a society struggling to get to grips with fake news and deepfake images. In fact, we know that this is an area that young people are finding particularly difficult; according to Ofcoms recent survey into Media Use and Attitudes among children, nearly a quarter of 12-17 year olds who claimed to be confident in their ability to discern real from fake content online were unable to correctly identify a fake social media profile when presented with one.

In debates on the Online Safety Bill, much discussion has been had on the subject of fake news and helping the public identify such stories through media literacy skills; educators certainly have a role to play in this regard.

Media literacy can – and should – be incorporated across all subjects, encouraging students to build research skills and the ability to discern credible information sources for themselves. Subjects such as history and science are the perfect opportunity for students to learn how to verify sources and be able to carry out research tasks in a media savvy way.

Such skill developments also unlock the potential of learning in new, creative ways, engaging a wider group of students in more subjects. Additionally, encouraging students to interrogate the information they are consuming will again develop their critical thinking abilities, a skill that has wide benefits across many different subject areas and, later, careers.

Further research suggests that to respond to the incredible proliferation” of technological innovations, businesses – and therefore society as a whole – is a move to a perpetual learning culture”. Digital skills, and wider workforce requirements, should be thought of through the lens of perpetual  learning”, reframing the approach to skills education as a constant evolution rather than a narrow focus on a discrete set of competencies that may become outdated.

Unleashing the ability of children to learn how to learn is critical to ensuring that we are fostering a generation of independent, curious and skilled young people capable of meeting any challenge they come across, whether in the workplace or beyond.

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