I hear the same thing everywhere. This isn’t a drill; this is for real. The state we’re in is new. We call it a state of emergency. Slowly, slowly we adjust.
The situation isn’t the same for everyone. Those who had a basic digital proficiency before this spring’s coronavirus crisis have survived a lot better than those who lack this proficiency.
We’ve talked about this for years. Some of us have offered guidance and training for teachers and other staff. We’ve developed and carried out projects on digital learning and digital tools. We’ve created networks, we’ve arranged weeks with certain themes, we’ve written manuals. We’ve arranged conferences and composed positions. Much has been achieved, but the coronavirus crisis has nevertheless more than enough shown us how much still remains. In addition, the crisis has made it clear where the gaps are. We all still have a lot to learn. Fortunately, none of us have to start from scratch.
The five digital competence areas
The EU has compiled a comprehensive model of digital proficiency and has also had time to update it. DigComp 2.1 contains five competence areas and eight proficiency levels. Most of them are fairly obvious. All of them are important. So, what exactly does the model contain? Data literacy (today mostly source criticism) is important in order to manage the media flow and relate critically to information.
The second competence area is about communication and collaboration. It’s better if more and more of us are active digital citizens, rather than passive consumers of information. During the coronavirus crisis, we have also noticed how important the digital channel can be in maintaining social contacts and counteracting the feeling of being confined. The third competence area, digital content creation, is already a bit more advanced. Playing music on the computer, making films, or writing text are all skills from which more and more of us will be able to benefit. As you know, man does not live on bread alone. Being able to create things digitally and share it with others is a matter of visibility. The feeling when you have made something and then release it for the whole world to view can be very cool.
During the coronavirus crisis, the police went out with information that several types of crime have been reduced. These include burglary, robbery, and assault. It goes without saying that when we are all staying at home, it isn’t possible to make burglaries, and when the restaurants are closed, the street fights and robberies decrease. But in its place, there are digital robberies. Digital safety is therefore an obvious competence that we all need. We are doing more and more over the Internet, and some of it is very interesting for criminals. Almost all cybercrime is about money, and it’s easy to understand that we need skills to protect ourselves. The last competence area in this bouquet is about problem solving. It is the same competence that is measured in PIAAC, (PISA for adults), together with reading, writing and mathematical skills.
It isn't about technology
The point here is that basic digital skills are not primarily about technology. For a long time, we have talked about this as a matter of technology, when it’s really about much more. As much around us is digitalised, our ways of communicating, meeting, learning, and using services are affected. The coronavirus made all of this very clear. This spring, those of us who already had several of the DigComp skills could relatively easily transition completely into the digital world. For others, it wasn’t as easy. The coronavirus is a threat to us all, no matter where we live. It doesn’t respect borders; it makes no distinctions between us. If we want to get rid of it, we must get rid of it everywhere. Simply closing borders and hoping the virus respects it is naive. The same is true with digitalisation. If technological developments contribute to further gaps in our societies, it leads us to disintegration. It’s simply in our common interest to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities. Those of us who have managed this crisis better than others have no reason to show off their contentment. We all have a responsibility to help each other. The education sector isn’t the answer to all questions, it cannot solve all the critical problems of our time. But we can, and we must, do a lot. When we talk about basic digital skills, we have all the prerequisites to contribute a great deal. The flexibility that many educational systems showed when our communities were closed down overnight was impressive. Still everything did not go smoothly, and there are plenty of challenges, both large and small, both technical and didactic. But none of that diminishes the value of the incredible work that educators throughout Europe have done. There is no way back. When we get out of this, we will have changed. We have new tools to work with, we have learned a lot of new things. And we have lived through a time that changed the world.
I hope that something good comes out of all this and that we by now understand why it is so important to give everyone the same opportunities to be able to handle the digital world, in order for us to be better equipped for the next system collapse. Because, sooner or later, it’s coming.
What do you think? How have you handled the crisis, and what do you think we should do when it’s over?
The writer Johanni Larjanko works as the Finnish National Coordinator for the Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL), an information officer for Bildningsalliansen (expert of digital services and integration) as well as an EPALE ambassador in Finland. Twitter: @larjanko.