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Youth Skills

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ySKILLS (Youth Skills)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2020-12-31

Over the last decade we have witnessed major transformations in youth’s access to digital media platforms, with children and adolescents becoming immersed in digital technologies from a very early age. Children and adolescents live in an always-on world with increased surveillance by adults, corporations and institutions, decreased levels of privacy, access to an ever-growing number and diverse range of mobile apps, and increasingly pervasive use of technology in schools. Compared to a decade ago, ICT use has become far more omnipresent, but there is a great variability in the ICT behaviours of children and adolescents. Navigating this world can be difficult for children and adolescents as it requires certain digital skills that many young people do not master, despite the popular perception that they are ‘digital natives’.

Furthermore, there is an underdevelopment of measures for digital skills testing around the softer non-technical skills that allow young people to safely interact in a civil manner on social media. One of the areas, which has posed considerable problems in terms of measurement appropriate for population-based research, is that of critical information literacy, including the ability to understand the intent of sources of online content (e.g. privacy and commodification of personal information, extremist content) and the ability to critically engage in information online (e.g. estimating its veracity and trustworthiness).
Hence, for digital skills testing, a fresh approach is required. ySKILLS will develop measures (i.e. performance test assignments) around sharing and communicating with others allowing children and adolescents to participate in positive ways and to deal with negative interactions which might lead to harm.

ySKILLS’ overarching aim is to enhance and maximise long-term positive impact of the ICT environment on multiple aspects of wellbeing for all children and adolescents by stimulating resilience through the enhancement of digital skills. In order to reach this overarching aim, ySKILLS intends to identify the (f)actors associated with children’s and adolescents’ wellbeing in the digital environment and the conditions in which digital skills influence the effect of these factors on their wellbeing, seen from a multidimensional perspective. The relationship between ICT use and the different wellbeing dimensions are examined on a short-, medium- and long-term basis among 12- to 17-year-olds.
In the first year of work, ySKILLS produced six content reports that looked at a multitude of definitions and measures of digital skills. Both broad and narrow definitions of digital skills are used in the literature. Such an exercise offers different perspectives for our view of the antecedents and consequences of digital skills. An important question in this regard is: Are we taking a multidimensional view of digital skills or are we looking at specific dimensions, such as information literacy or computer programming? We understand digital skills as a diverse set of operational, information navigation, communicative, creative and mobile competences, which are unequally distributed and influenced by a number of individual and contextual variables.

We conducted a systematic evidence review to investigate which concepts/variables are important for digital skills and we also saw which gaps there are, or in other words, which hypotheses are still underresearched, notably at the level of outcomes or consequences of digital skills. In order to make statements on concepts that are important for digital skills from a cross-cultural European perspective, we carried out a secondary analysis of the 2020 EUKIDS Online dataset, which examines children's online activities both in depth and breadth but investigates only self-reported skills.

From our interviews and our webinar with experts in education and the labour market, we learned that the current quality and effectiveness of initiatives intended to build digital skills are often deficient and inconsistent, and vary greatly within and across countries. We also came across very different perspectives with regard to digital skills and digital skills acquisition. This confirms the fragmentation of the field and the need for more coherence, not least in policy.

Our validation of the performance tests for measuring digital skills has shown that the dimensions we apply in our approach to digital skills do work and will allow us to look very specifically at age groups and educational levels of children and compare what children can effectively do in relation to what they themselves claim they know and are able to do. Once the validation phase is over and after the necessary adjustments, these performance tests will allow us to gauge demonstrated digital inequalities in a classroom and country context.
ySKILLS will generate a fivefold impact. It will 1) inform stakeholder groups about the way in which digital skills can be used to make young people more resilient to these negative impacts and that can lead to improved wellbeing; 2) formulate recommendations in support of national and European policies and practices that promote children’s digital/social inclusion and wellbeing; 3) advance an evidence-based EU policy and regulatory framework for young people’s wellbeing guiding the immediate and medium-term evolution of EU legal standards, regulations promoting safer, more skilled and more beneficial ICT uses by children and adolescents at home, for leisure and in educational settings; 4) help build the necessary interaction and cooperation between the actors and relevant stakeholders involved, e.g. enhance cooperation between schools and families in ensuring safe and productive ways of using ICTs; and 5) offer robust, longitudinal, cross-country data on both national and European levels, generate innovative quantitative and qualitative methods, identify which combination of individual, social and cultural characteristics, ICT use and digital skills, can improve or undermine youth wellbeing, and expand the knowledge base on at-risk (vulnerable or disadvantaged) children and adolescents. The aim of the dissemination of the research results is to inspire a reflexive process of rethinking conventional knowledge and assumptions about young people’s digital uses, opportunities, risks, skills, rights and wellbeing.

ySKILLS will show how European and international collaboration can achieve more than would have otherwise been possible, particularly in achieving scientific excellence, contributing to competitiveness and solving societal challenges. The various activities of ySKILLS (incl. publications and public events) show its awareness that academic research is after all a contribution to society and that Europeans can profit from such research initiatives directly. ySKILLS will generate a greater contribution to the knowledge-based economy and society by 1) enhancing cooperation and better transfer of knowledge between sectors and disciplines; 2) increasing the internationalisation of participating organisations; 3) increasing Europe’s attractiveness as a leading research destination, accompanied by a rise in the numbers of talented researchers attracted and retained from abroad; 4) better quality research and innovation contributing to Europe’s competitiveness and growth.
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