The Future of Basic Digital Skills

29 Jan 2018 |Written by Adam Micklethwaite

Two really important developments in one week, both fantastic to see.

The Tech Partnership, working with Lloyds Banking Group, has launched a consultation to develop a new UK framework for Basic Digital Skills.

Alongside this, Anne Milton MP, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, has confirmed that the Government's new legal entitlement to full funding for basic digital skills will start in 2020; and that later in the year the Department for Education will be developing standards for new digital skills qualifications.

At Good Things Foundation we welcome both of these steps.

The existing Basic Digital Skills framework is in need of updating. Digital skills do not stand still, and the benchmark for participation in the digital world has moved since the framework was first established in 2012.

Building on this, the new entitlement will for the first time put digital skills in the UK on the same footing as basic English and Maths: recognising that digital skills are just as essential to participate in society.

These policies come at a good time. An unprecedented number of organisations, including Government and the private sector, are acting together to address digital exclusion, and the framework and entitlement will strengthen this work.

As acknowledged by the Minister in her speech at BETT yesterday:

"Digital exclusion is a huge challenge. Those 11.5 million people without basic digital skills need to get them. This is why I am delighted to confirm that we will introduce full funding for basic digital training for adults from 2020."

Digital inclusion has never been so important. As well as a matter of social justice and a platform for economic growth, it will become more and more critical for the future of work as technology continues to change and humans continue to adapt. We will all need to keep refreshing our digital skills, and the attitudes and behaviours that support them, in order to live well with technology into the future.

This will be the case at all ages and levels - something also recognised by the Minister in announcing a range of policies to support young people and higher level digital skills.

We will be supporting the consultation on the Basic Digital Skills Framework by setting in train an engagement exercise with the Online Centres Network and the digitally excluded people they help. We will gather feedback, views and insight about the basic digital skills people need, and how these are changing.

Critically, we will also be asking about the pathways taken by digitally excluded people as they gain basic digital skills.

The 11.5 million adults in the UK who lack one or more of the five basic digital skills are more likely to face unemployment, disability, poverty and poor health. They are frequently disengaged from education, and therefore need strong, person-centred support - normally delivered in community locations - to build their confidence with digital, before starting to learn and develop new skills.

The Online Centres Network provides an essential pipeline for socially excluded people to gain this basic digital confidence. Our Future Digital Inclusion programme, funded by DfE, engages over 200,000 people a year, 84% of whom face single or multiple disadvantages: and shows rates of progression to further learning of around 90%.

So to go alongside the new Basic Digital Skills framework, we will need an underpinning, lower level framework of essential confidence, motivation and resilience required to enable people to reach this level. For the new legal entitlement to have its full effect, those it is designed to help will need the right support to reach the point at which qualifications funded by the Government become a realistic option.

It is great to see such commitment to addressing digital exclusion from Government and other organisations active in this space; and equally important that this thinking is looking to the future as well as the present.

The future of Basic Digital Skills is changing, and we look forward to playing our part in making it happen.