Equipping people with digital literacy is essential to achieving economic prosperity, access to public services, and social well-being, according to a new report by the Brookfield Institute.
The report, “Levelling up: The Quest for Digital Literacy,” draws on over 90 interviews with digital literacy education and training providers across Canada; school boards and teachers that have successfully implemented a digital literacy curriculum, policymakers at various levels of government, and academics studying digital literacy and technology in the classroom. It looks at the roles of organizations and educational institutions within the digital literacy sector and shares trends in the curriculum, including program models for different age groups across Canada.
Specifically, the report provides insight into the landscape of digital literacy policies and programs across Canada, explores the types of digital skills people are pursuing, and highlights the existing gaps and opportunities to improve digital literacy education and training.
“Digital skills…have become critical for Canadians to fully participate and be productive in an increasingly digital economy.”
“Digital skills and capabilities have become critical for Canadians to fully participate and be productive in an increasingly digital economy,” said Sean Mullin, executive director of the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship. “Yet, navigating Canada’s dynamic landscape of digital literacy training and education is complicated, even for the most digitally savvy learners. As a country, we need to think critically about how to enable more widespread and equitable access for all our citizens.”
While coding is an in-demand skill, learning a specific coding language is not enough in the current digital environment, according to the report. The Brookfield Institute suggests that digital literacy programs should also include transferable skills associated with computational thinking and computer science theory to help people create digital tools and products.
The report also notes that while there is a wide range of digital literacy education and training programs available within the K-12 and post-secondary education system, the landscape of opportunities for learning digital skills can be difficult and confusing for some adult learners to navigate.
“Learners regularly move between sectors, programs, and fields, building career pathways that may pivot.”
“From interviewees, we heard that learners regularly move between sectors, programs, and fields, building career pathways that may pivot and take sharp turns or missteps,” the report reads. “A number of interviewees talked about the lack of a digital literacy ‘pipeline,’ ‘pathway,’ or ‘ladder,’ describing the landscape in Canada as fragmented and confusing for adult learners to navigate.”
The Brookfield Institute’s report suggests that many Canadians are at risk of “falling through the cracks,” due to low levels of digital literacy overlapping with socioeconomic marginalization such as low incomes, low literacy rates, and remote and disconnected communities. People who do not live in urban centres or lack high literacy rates have a harder time accessing the right for-fee training programs to gain the right skills to prepare for or transition into jobs that require skills in technology.
The report adds that Canada is suffering from a “digital divide” even though public funding exists for internet and hardware training. Overall, there is a need to provide consistent access to training in digital skills that are necessary in today’s workforce.
The Levelling Up report builds on the Brookfield Institute’s discussion paper, “Digital Literacy in a Digital Age,” which looked at key issues and questions that arise in debates about digital literacy. Earlier this year, the Brookfield Institute launched a digital literacy and coding pilot program with $2 million from the Ontario government.