Preparing young Europeans for the ‘digital future’: Report

Focusing on the near-term future (the next three to five years) the experts have been asked to focus on how digital technologies may impact children and families, and the role that educators and industry can play in promoting positive change.

This report Looking forward : Technological and social change in the lives of European children and young people‘ has been commissioned by the ICT Coalition for Children Online (‘ICT Coalition’), a membership organisation for ICT companies operating in Europe that “aims to help younger internet users across Europe to make the most of the online world and deal with any potential challenges and risks.”

Lead author of the report, published in November 2018, is Dr Alicia Blum-Ross at the LSE, who worked with a team of experts across Europe. 

Along with interviewing representatives from companies – members of the ICT Coalition, the authors used focused groups with young people, parents and teachers in five European countries, chosen for their regional diversity: Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland and Italy.

Here are some of the key findings summarized: 

  • Families are spending a substantial portion of their leisure time using digital technologies, but parents of younger children struggle with identifying positive or educational content and services and with avoiding inappropriate or unsafe material.
  • Older children and parents struggle with the amount of time they each spend online and want tools and support to help ensure this time is well spent
  • Parents and young people value the ease with which they can communicate using digital technologies, especially the greater freedom and peace-of-mind this can bring, but the ability to be constantly in touch also creates new pressures and anxieties.
  • Young people find ways of managing when they have difficult experiences online, but rarely do they turn to parents, teachers or industry (e.g. reporting inappropriate content or contact) as resources to deal with these difficulties.
  • Industry has been proactive in providing services, resources and programmes to help support children’s safety online, from parental control tools to educational outreach. However, the impact of these initiatives and the uptake of tools are unclear.
  • Only a minority of children are engaging in creative digital opportunities, like producing their own content, either at home or at school, despite the fact that encouraging the development of digital media literacies (such as learning to code) and use of new technologies (such as 3D printing and VR), are popular amongst policy makers. Despite teachers reporting basic challenges, such as lack of connectivity, equipment or training, some teachers are interested in utilizing and implementing the use of new and emerging creative technologies.

The recommendations and suggestions pertain to new tools and services, supporting digital literacy, and industry responsibilities. 

Although the recommendations pertain to the policy-makers, as well, the report ends with a set of recommendations specifically addressed at them, summarized here: 

• Teachers and senior leadership in schools need significantly increased training and resources to enable and access to good practice examples of a) positive uses of digital technologies (including using smartphones) in the classroom and b) the integration of digital literacy skills into diverse areas of the curriculum (e.g. ‘fake news’ could be taught in citizenship, history or english lessons).

• Existing centralised resources and centres (e.g. Safer Internet Centres) need an expanded remit, and greater resources in order to perform a set of suggested tasks

• Work with industry to more clearly communicate to parents and young people why the age of consent has been set as it has (depending on the country context) and why they should adhere to it.

The authors believe the above recommendations can be initiated in the short-term, whereas the above outlined the topics for consideration can be initiated now but will likely have impact in the medium- to longer-term.

Download the reportLooking forward : Technological and social change in the lives of European children and young people