Students struggling to cope with flood of information from internet and digital services

A new report found that only half of European students are taught to recognise if online information is biased, and less than one in 10 can successfully distinguish fact from opinions.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

06 May 2021

The publication of the report comes against the backdrop of a COVID-19 ‘Infodemic’ - a term coined by the World Health Organization to describe the flood of information disseminated about the health crisis.

Called ‘21st Century Readers: Developing literacy skills in a digital world’, the study was co-funded by the OECD and Vodafone Germany Foundation.

The findings were released at a digital skills event, hosted by the European Commission, which focused on educating youths on digital literacy to help them navigate the ‘infodemic’.

The report says that students’ access to digital technologies and training on how to use them also varies greatly between countries and socio-economic backgrounds.

Students from Australia, Canada, Denmark and the United States are almost twice as likely to receive training on how to detect biased information than students from Israel, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Switzerland.

The report also highlights a further “digital divide” as students from disadvantaged backgrounds are, it says, falling behind in literacy skills.

With the exception of Portugal and Hungary, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly less likely to receive training on how to validate information successfully.

“The report could not be more timely - in times where the screen becomes a window to the world, it is important to ensure that young people have the skills to navigate safely and responsibly in the sea of information and knowledge” Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

In Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden this difference was more than 15 percentage points, illustrating “particularly unequal” access to digital education, said the report.

The online event on Tuesday explored how 15-year-old students across the world are developing reading skills to navigate the ‘technology-rich’ 21st century and shed light on potential ways to strengthen students’ capacity to navigate the new world of information.

It was told that countries need to redouble their efforts to combat emerging digital divides.

One of the speakers, Mariya Gabriel, EU commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, told the conference, “The report could not be more timely - in times where the screen becomes a window to the world, it is important to ensure that young people have the skills to navigate safely and responsibly in the sea of information and knowledge.”

“This is also one of the key goals of the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027– adapting education and training to the digital age and ensuring that young people have the necessary skills and competences to live and thrive in these circumstances.”

“I truly believe that the report provides a valuable insight on how to best support our 15-year-olds in their journey in the digital age, making them truly knowledgeable and enlightened readers, but also citizens in the digital 21st century.”

Further comment came from Joakim Reiter, Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer of the Vodafone Group, who said, “As digital technologies have enabled the immediate spread of information, it is more important than ever that readers can distinguish fact from opinion, by learning strategies to detect biased information and malicious content like fake news and phishing emails.”

“Policymakers, education institutions, civil society and businesses must act now to ensure we meet the EU’s digital decade target of at least 80 percent of all adults having basic digital skills by 2030” Joakim Reiter, Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer of the Vodafone Group

“Policymakers, education institutions, civil society and businesses must act now to ensure we meet the EU’s digital decade target of at least 80 percent of all adults having basic digital skills by 2030.”

Recognising that digital education in Europe must be strengthened to enable young people to thrive in a digital society, Vodafone’s Foundations in Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Turkey have announced a new pan-European education initiative designed to empower students and educators in the creative, critical and self-confident use of digital technologies.

By sharing best-practice examples, the initiative will seek to provide educators from school and out-of-school settings with high-quality, ready-to-use learning and teaching material.

The initiative is part of a €20 million investment by Vodafone Foundation to empower 16 million learners across 14 European countries by 2025 to build the skills and confidence they need to experience the benefits of technology and thrive in a flourishing digital society.

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