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Digital inclusion for all young people?

Digital inclusion for all young people?

Child using Facebook - Image credit: PA images

It’s not uncommon to watch a toddler pick up a smartphone and competently navigate their way to Peppa Pig.

Despite appearances, though, young people aren’t born with digital skills. The development of digital skills requires space to explore, coupled with help to learn.

Vulnerable young people, particularly those at points of transition in their life (in care, excluded from mainstream education, homeless, unemployed, seeking asylum), are most at risk of slipping through the net and falling outside the digital mainstream.

They may lack the access, support, technical ability, confidence or motivation to develop their basic digital skills.

Critical literacy skills (awareness of the interests behind content online) may be lacking. Only frequent use builds confidence and skills.

Yes, a young person might watch online video content or play games, but passive consumption of online entertainment isn’t digital inclusion.

To experience the opportunities offered by access to limitless information we need a range of online skills: in problem solving, transacting, communicating, creating and managing our information.

An accurate picture of the extent of the issue is hard to create.

Recent research by The Prince’s Trust, ‘Slipping Through the Net’, found that around 40 per cent of disadvantaged young people are being held back in the digital world because they struggle with ‘netiquette’ (how to deal with their own behaviour or the behaviour of others online).

The Carnegie UK Trust launched #NotWithoutMe in 2015 to better understand the support structures required for the digital inclusion of vulnerable young people and to support innovative projects, designed to improve basic digital skills.

Supported projects have been working on a number of things:

  • Care experienced young people have shared their digital needs with carers and social workers, to help them better understand the challenges they face and skills they require
  • Young people with learning disabilities have been exploring digital technology, learning and sharing skills and developing tools to help their peers
  • Young people who are unemployed co-created a series of training workshops to help them develop the digital skills they most need, including how to apply for jobs online, how to use social media safely and appropriately, creating online content and accessing services

Finding the hook – the motivation to develop digital skills – is key to each of the projects.

In the case of the Pavilion (a school for young people who have been out of mainstream education for some time as a result of medical or mental health challenges) the hook was to improve wellbeing.

The Pavilion students feel excluded – literally and emotionally.

They feel pushed out of mainstream learning. Typically they have low aspirations coupled with low literacy levels and/or significant gaps in their learning.

They are consumers of social media but use it for play and for online chat and many students have been or are identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation.

The challenge is to re-engage interest in learning through enabling them to acquire new skills quickly and to see their success in tangible terms.

One element of the #NotWithoutMe project was photography. The cameras literally helped the students to focus – to concentrate on learning new skills.

For one traumatised student the camera created a breakthrough into re-engaging with learning.

She was not able to sit in lessons or concentrate on her core subjects. However, she discovered the strategy of being able to participate from being behind the camera.

She created an art-book of her artwork and photos and took a pride in her achievements.

Developing these digital skills was empowering and contributed to improvements in the social and mental wellbeing of a vulnerable student.

Through the delivery of the #NotWithoutMe projects a number of similar themes have emerged:

  • Some young people over-estimate their level of digital skills, only through observation and activity does their actual skill level emerge
  • Value is placed in learning alongside peers, not just individually
  • Support is needed to recognise and record CV relevant skills
  • Advanced skills in one digital area can mask low skills in others 
  • It is challenging to measure and evaluate progress (What does success look like for each individual?)

Visual communications are an important medium to many of the young people we have supported.

Creating films, photography, YouTube content, vlogging and microblogging are key routes to supporting the development of other basic digital skills. 

Creating content is a skill many (though not all) young people have and are keen to develop. Tapping into this provides one route to develop other skills.

There is far more to learn, and do. Follow our progress at #NotWithoutMe or get in touch with

Gina Wilson is the development manager for Carnegie UK Trust

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