Researchers from the MU Faculty of Social Studies took part in an international study conducted as part of the European ySKILLS (Youth Skills) project. The study confirmed that digital skills play a key role in both online and offline learning and showed that better digital skills can help protect children against online risks. The study also concluded that the digital skills of Czech children are average and on a par with children’s digital skills in Germany and Slovakia.
The researchers also looked into the factors that facilitate and hinder the improvement of children’s digital skills and impact their everyday life.
To a large extent, the acquisition of digital skills in children depends on their parents and any restrictions they may place on the use of digital devices. “The digital skills of Czech children are average and on a par with children of the same age in Germany, Norway and Slovakia. The research showed that in the Czech Republic, the single most important factor that plays a role in children’s digital skills are parental restrictions. In other words, the children of parents who place restrictions on using the internet or certain areas of it are less skilled”, says David Šmahel from the Interdisciplinary Research Team on Internet and Society (IRTIS), which conducted the research in the Czech Republic. He recommends that rather than restricting the use of technologies, parents should talk with their children about them and teach them how to use the internet safely.
Children’s digital skills improve with age and better access to technologies at home and school although confidence also plays a role. The international study showed that children who are well acquainted with the online world and feel safe in it find it easier to acquire the knowledge and understanding of how the internet works.
Although greater digital skills could expose children to more online risks, including encounters with potentially harmful content that might refer to self-harm, anorexia etc., they also improve their ability to avoid these risks and minimise the effects of these encounters. This is because better digital skills are not only positively correlated with improved learning outcomes but also help children protect their privacy better.
The studies give recommendations to parents and teachers
These findings are the result of two studies: a systematic review of 110 studies from 64 countries and an analysis of the data provided by the EU Kids Online survey of over 13,000 children between twelve and sixteen from seventeen European countries. The conclusions of the research are freely available in two publications – Children’s and young people’s digital skills: a systematic evidence review and Digital skills, risks and wellbeing among European children – and include recommendations for policy-makers, parents and teachers on how to help improve children’s digital skills. The studies recommend a variety of approaches, such as establishing formal and informal educational programmes, informing parents that a positive attitude to information technology improves children’s ability to deal with the online risks, and facilitating peer learning among children.
The Youth SKILLS (ySKILLS) project is financed by the EU programme Horizon 2020 and aims to maximise the long-term positive impact of the digital environment by studying the required digital skills of children and adolescents. The project involves 14 universities from 13 countries, including MU, and the European SchoolNet network. The publications are freely accessible at https://yskills.eu.