The Digital Journey towards an Inclusive and Smart Europe

Photo: Adults learning digital skills

In 2007-2008, 40%[1] of Europeans were excluded from the new digitally oriented society, due to being digitally illiterate. That’s when the European Commission launched its awareness raising campaign called “e-Inclusion, be part of it!” to ensure a barrier-free information society for all. At the very same time, in Riga in 2008 a network of digital inclusion leaders was created. Other initiatives have been developed in Europe, encouraged by the strong political messages and support.

10 years later and despite all efforts from politicians, legislators, industry, education and social partners, the percentage of Europeans lacking basic digital skills has actually increased by 3%, to 43%[2]  How is that possible? Have we all failed in our quests to solve this problem?

Explanations can take many different nuances, but a few can be highlighted as the bigger influencers:

  1. Limited political and financial support from the European institutions and member states. Even though between 2008 and 2012 digital exclusion was much debated and there was a major push, efforts slowed down in the following years and have been replaced by other priorities within the digital sphere. Discontinued political and financial support to digital inclusion initiatives had a boomerang effect.
  2. Technology evolves at high-speed. It is impossible for the education and training sector to keep the same pace. The formal education sector should be reformed to build the ever-evolving skills of future (digital) citizens. Digital education in non-formal and informal learning often happens in isolation, is not sustainable, its learning outcomes are not fully recognised and its impact is hard to measure. 
  3. A large majority of the 43% are adults and elderly people. That signals the fact that we are especially failing to reach those that are not part of formal education anymore, from rural areas and disadvantaged groups. Furthermore, today all of us are at a risk of being excluded if we don’t apply lifelong learning to our lives and education.

Digital literacy was measured slightly differently in 2008 compared to later years[3]. Also, the fast-technological development influenced the evolution of various types of digital skills. These changes have played their part in the growing percentage of those lacking basic digital skills.

Europe’s digital journey has many bottlenecks and turns. A roadmap has been created helping the continent to navigate through all challenges and opportunities. The ‘Digital Single Market’ is the most important and comprehensive strategy for the development of a digital European society that guides all actors in this journey. It involves higher-stakes issues such as e-commerce, geo-blocking, copyright, telecoms, while digital literacy and competences are seen as means to a greater end. Citizens are addressed from the point of view of consuming digital services and products, rather than as human capital in need of new skills to make the most of digital transformation.

In a recent article in Politico[4], Commissioner Mariya Gabriel faced criticism from some EU politicians and industry representatives that she focuses too much on Digital Skills which is a lower-stakes issue. While we agree that the work with the Telecoms sector on 5G roll-out or the audiovisual geo-blocking are extremely important, at ALL DIGITAL we believe that “Digital Skills” should be regarded, now more than ever, as high priority, and that the politicians and industry should invest more into creating opportunities for everyone to exploit the digital transformation.

Photo: Workshops at ALL DIGITAL Summit 2017

10 years ago, in 2008, the European network of digital inclusion leaders was formed in Riga. We have worked with over 13 million Europeans since, by enhancing their digital skills for inclusion, employability, or citizenship. We have reached this impact, because, as a network, we are greater than the sum of our parts!

In October 2018, we are organising our 11th annual Summit, to explore the DIGITAL JOURNEY: FROM INCLUSION TO EMPOWERMENT. Our journey to become digital citizens, skilled workers, empowered educators or inspiring leaders is enabled by digital skills and tools. Our digital journeys start from inclusion, from the notion that digital tools are for everyone, through feeling safe and comfortable with our own capacities, to being empowered by our knowledge. Empowered citizens are digitally literate, lifelong learners, and proactive in the digital society. And we want this digital society to be inclusive and smart.

The Summit will propose and debate ideas and solutions that address the challenges of supporting citizens with their digital journeys in an ever-changing social and technology landscape. It will explore the significant role of digital skills to enhance media literacy, global citizenship education, integration of migrants and refugees, human rights protection and awareness-raising, addressing societal issues in a smart and inclusive way.

At European or global level, 100% Digital inclusion and empowerment seems like a distant goal. However, there are still thousands of daily individual empowerment victories across Europe that keep us going. We will celebrate these victories at the Summit and plan our collective future actions. Please join us and see more at https://summit.all-digital.org/!

[1] Source: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/sites/digital-agenda/fil...

[2] Source: DESI Report 2018 – Human Capital

[3] Source: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/new-comprehensiv...

[4] https://www.politico.eu/article/mariya-gabriel-digital-single-marke...

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