From digital skills to digital citizenship: the stakes of 21st-century education
G7 Summit

From digital skills to digital citizenship: the stakes of 21st-century education

All societies are undergoing rapid, exponential change, in large part due to the technological revolution that is disrupting the way in which we work, live and interact with each other. This trend threatens to deepen exclusion and inequality – both within and between countries. It can only be countered by investing in what best prepares individuals to shape their future: education.

Education is the thread linking the themes of Canada’s G7 presidency, from jobs of the future and inclusive growth to environmental sustainability, gender equality, and peace and security.

The evidence is irrefutable: education has a transformative power to alleviate poverty, to improve health, to nurture the talent and innovation needed to find solutions collaboratively. It is a leading determinant of economic growth, employment and earnings in our knowledge-based economies.

Reorienting education systems is a priority everywhere, in order to prepare students to face the challenges of accelerating globalisation, changing labour markets, migration, and transnational environmental and political upheaval, as well as technological advances.

To be ‘future ready’, education systems need to anticipate shifting skills needs and create more flexible lifelong learning pathways that equip learners with the necessary knowledge, skills, values and attitudes. Digital skills have moved from ‘optional’ to ‘critical’, whether they are basic functional skills or advanced skills for information and communication technologies professions.

Preparing for a new era of work
Although new technologies will likely reduce the number of routine jobs, digitalisation has the potential to generate new jobs through the Internet of Things, robotics and applications of artificial intelligence. Some observers predict that more than two thirds of jobs that will exist in 2030 have not yet been invented.

An estimated 95% of the global population now lives in an area covered by at least a basic 2G mobile network, meaning that developing countries could even leapfrog over some stages of economic development. Yet even across the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, over half of all adults have no or limited digital skills, including among the younger generation often considered ‘digital natives’.

Education systems must ensure that all learners – especially women, the poorest and most marginalised – gain a minimum level of digital skills. This calls for comprehensive support to all levels, from developing quality early childhood education and care to modernising higher education and further developing adult education. Investing in teachers and their continuous training to keep apace with innovative teaching methods is imperative.

UNESCO’s annual flagship event, Mobile Learning Week, which in March 2018 focused on the theme of ‘Skills for a Connected World’, is one key opportunity to share best practices from around the world.

But education is about much more than merely providing people with the skills and knowledge to secure employment. It must enable people to live diverse, fulfilled lives and contribute to their societies.

Digital skills need to be complemented by transversal ‘soft skills’ – communication skills, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, creativity and critical thinking – vital for navigating a world of complexity.

Our education systems must nurture the global citizens of the future: a generation respectful of cultural diversity that is able to understand different world views and safeguard our environment.

The power of education
UNESCO has been at the forefront of advancing the understanding and practice of global citizenship. It has long advocated for education as the most effective long-term response to prevent the spread of violent extremism, including through our digital literacy programmes.

Despite the recognition of the importance of education, 263 million children, adolescents and youth worldwide are out of school, and of those in school, some 617 million are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics.

Furthermore, a lack of investment in education at the global level is jeopardising development prospects. Donors have been shifting their priorities away from education: the share of education in total aid fell six years in a row, from 10% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2015.

Effective education and training systems are essential in delivering on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that were universally adopted in 2015, uniting countries around a global plan for a more just, equitable and peaceful future.

UNESCO is fully committed to working with G7 leaders to ensure that education and skills are at the forefront of political agendas. The visit of prime minister Justin Trudeau to UNESCO’s headquarters in April 2018 displayed Canada’s leadership and commitment to global cooperation in this area.

By championing increased public aid to education and innovative financing tools that work together to maximise learning opportunities, particularly through harnessing the potential of digital technologies, the G7 would send a clear message of collective responsibility for education as a global public good, a human right and the main tool for building more resilient societies.