THE BLOG

Life-Long Learning Key to Digital Growth in Europe

24/07/2014 12:40 BST | Updated 23/09/2014 10:59 BST

Digital literacy only one part of what we need to evoke digitally-powered entrepreneurialism across continent

Ever since the British government announced the introduction of computer programming into the school curriculum a year ago, a flurry of organisations have established related initiatives to improve the digital literacy of young people across the country.

The wider European community has experienced a similar ripple effect, with many countries, organisations and individuals railing to not only up-skill a continent suffering from a shortage in skilled ICT workers but also reap the benefits of the booming digital economy.

Many of these initiatives have taking inspiration from the much celebrated Estonian model, a vanguard in teaching the digital competencies and ICT skills needed in profiting from the many opportunities that exist online.

Thanks to this model, Estonia's population have significantly higher ICT operational skills compared to their European counterparts but this isn't simply because they introduce digital learning from an early age. The Estonian government established a lifelong learning strategy called 'Smart People'. This strategy, as Jaak Aaviksoo, minister of education and research pointed out, is an 'important change in education-related thinking.' Education, Jaak explains, is 'everyone's business and lasts for their entire life.'

The Smart People strategy identifies five goals in the field of digital education that the government are investing in to nurture a growing digital workforce: motivating and paying teachers a deserved salary, changing the educational framework around the needs of the labour market, adapting to an individuals' own learning style, effective financing and most importantly, life-long digital learning opportunities for all.

This type of progressive strategy recognises that it's not simply digital literacy that needs improving; identifying and setting the right conditions to evoke digitally-powered entrepreneurialism at every societal level is equally as important.

This belief is echoed in a report launched yesterday by the UK Digital Skills Taskforce. Written by Maggie Philbin, CEO of Teen Tech and commissioned by Ed Milliband, Leader of the Labour Party, the report looks at issues such as the role of education institutions, government and business in ensuring young people have the skills they need to fulfill their potential and to meet the future needs of the economy.

The report highlights that need for these skills is immediate and will grow on an exponential scale in the coming years. For Britain's economic livelihood to continue to flourish, the report states that a flexible adaptable and fully skilled workforce, spanning all generations, will be needed.

It also highlights that it is extremely important to appreciate that Britain doesn't just need technical digital skills in isolation. They need to be complemented by the broader core skills which a digital economy thrives on. The greatest need for particular technical sectors is flexible, able and bright individuals who can accommodate their talent and skills to new and emerging tasks at hand.

A similar approach has also been adopted at a pan-European level with young European inventors at the recent Digital Venice event launching Restart Europe, a report on how the continents digital economy can grow. Although the document addresses the need for greater technology and coding literacy, it's the framework being built around those acquiring new skills which it feels is of greater importance.

Truly mastering digital is to have the confidence in taking your ideas online and what these reports demonstrate is that learning the manual task of computer programming is only the beginning. A systemic approach will be needed if we're to foster an entrepreneur class, who have a deep understanding of digital and the right skills to compete on a global scale.