Digital skills, digital divide and gender gap. These are among the issues being explored and discussed at Mobile Learning Week, UNESCO’s flagship information and communications technology in education event, which kicked off in Paris on 26 March 2018.
The annual gathering was organized in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Mobile Learning Week 2018 features a symposium, workshops on innovative projects and policies, and strategy labs, as well as a policy forum on national educational initiatives with ministers of education, technology and communications to prepare for the digital economy.
“Digital skills are critical for life, jobs and social inclusion in today’s world,” said Firmin Edouard Matoko, Assistant Director-General for Education, at the opening Ceremony of Mobile Learning Week. “Many countries are taking a dual-track approach to mainstreaming digital skills, integrating digital and other elements of 21st century skills into subject areas of curriculum in parallel with providing new study programmes on advanced digital skills like coding.”
Policy intervention to tackle the digital divide
To realize opportunities presented by digitalization, governments need to understand how jobs—and the skill sets demanded by these jobs—are changing. Without policy interventions, ongoing technological developments threaten to exacerbate the inequalities between those with and without digital skills. Integrated and comprehensive responses are urgently needed.
“A tight synergy between ICT Ministry and Education is needed to develop digital skills for all”, David Atchoarena, Director of Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems at UNESCO.
Digital skills have moved from ‘optional’ to ‘critical’ and need to be complemented with transversal ‘soft skills’ such as the ability to communicate effectively in both online and offline mediums.
“Soft skills to go hand in hand with digital skills development”, stated Denitsa Sacheva, Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science.
Ensuring that everyone has relevant digital skills helps promote inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning for all.
“Bridging the digital divide will only become a reality when people across the world are equally equipped with the digital skills set needed to match the employment and entrepreneurship requirements of the digital economy,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society need to work together, to cooperate, to innovate and build sustainable partnerships.”
The alarming gender gap
There are major inequalities in digital skills in both developing and developed countries along a number of lines, especially gender. Women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report lack of skills as a factor impeding their use of the internet.
Mariana Costa Checa is a young social entrepreneur from Peru who founded CEO and Co-founder of Laboratoria a company that has been training young women coding and software development skills in Latin America since 2014. “We want to train young women to make them talented and globally competitive software developers,” she said. Pilar Casas, a Laboratoria graduate from Mexico said: “I went from selling pancakes in the streets to working for machine learning.”
Government and state actors need to play a pivotal role in setting up the fundamental principles for inclusive and equitable digital skills development, providing programmes and capacity development initiatives for disadvantaged groups, and re-skilling adults at risk for job displacement.
“As the economy is shifting and becoming more automated, we are seeing the depletion of many low-skilled jobs where women are overrepresented,” said Ms Costa Checa. “But in high-skilled professions, particularly those related to tech where there are many job opportunities, women are underrepresented. Unless we urgently do something to change that ratio, women are going to be left out.”
Held annually at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, Mobile Learning Week convenes experts from around the world to share how affordable and powerful mobile technology – from basic handsets to the newest tablet computers – can accelerate learning for all, particularly people living in disadvantaged communities.