A key conference is taking place in Brussels this week, one where the spotlight will not be on Heads of State, national ministers or EU officials – but on Europe’s youth. The Latvian Presidency’s EU Youth Conference is part of a commitment to engage directly with young people on the issues that matter most to them. And among the topics on the agenda will be the issue of digital literacy.
High-level digital skills, encompassing computational thinking, programming and an understanding of how and when to apply technology are increasingly understood to be a core literacy for Europe. That’s clear from the prominence of digital initiatives – this week also happens to be Get Online Week, the EU’s annual digital empowerment campaign engaging people to use technology and the Internet with confidence.
But just as reading and writing were restricted to an elite few in the early days of the printing press, digital literacy in the 21st century remains the exception, rather than the rule. And just a few governments have taken the plunge in making computer science a mandatory subject in schools.
For too long, computer science has been the “poor cousin” among the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Instead of empowering young people to become truly digital citizens in a knowledge economy, we have focused only on developing basic digital skills, which fall short of what employers want and what young people need to succeed.
The Latvian Presidency recently hosted a high-level conference in Riga to launch the “eSkills for Jobs” campaign for 2015 and 2016. The event focused on the need to improve the image of digital jobs and to promote digital education, jobs and careers across all sectors. The European Commission declared its determination to place digital skills education at the heart of its upcoming Digital Single Market strategy, and the EU’s commitment to drive further action on boosting digital skills in Europe was illustrated in the Riga Declaration on e-Skills adopted at the end of the conference.
Microsoft is a proud to have endorsed the Riga Declaration, as part of our longstanding support of the eSkills for Jobs campaign, and along with campaign coordinators DIGITALEUROPE and European Schoolnet, we are strengthening our commitment to fostering digital skills amongst even Europe’s youngest citizens.
Policy initiatives such as the eSkills for Jobs campaign recognize the importance of industry, governments and organizations working together to help prepare European youth for the digital era.
Microsoft has spearheaded industry efforts on this front, through our involvement in campaigns such as #wespeakcode and the European Coding Initiative, which aims to promote higher level digital-skills to young people, provide teachers with relevant resources, and support Ministries of Education as they start to implement curricular reforms. And the basic programming resources we provide, such as Kodu, Project Spark and Touch Develop apps, are all designed to spark kids’ curiosity for coding.
As more and more national education systems transition to digitally-focused curricula, such industry support is vital. For instance, in the UK – which last year introduced compulsory coding classes – Microsoft has released a brand new curriculum for teaching computer science from age 13 up. We’ve also partnered with Computing at School, a platform training thousands of teachers to deliver the new computing curriculum in an impactful and engaging way, to share our knowledge and expertise with those who need it most.
We truly believe we are at a turning point for Europe. There is an unprecedented amount of energy and awareness among all stakeholders about the need for this major change. And we are honored to be a key partner to so many policy makers, NGOs and education bodies in making this change happen. Together, we can ensure that students leaving school in Europe have the skills they need to succeed in the fast-growing knowledge economy.