Digital Skills for Life and Work

neil Selwyn

Professor Neil Selwyn

Get ready for a future where your whole life is hooked up to the internet. That’s the outlook of the latest report drafted by Monash University's Professor Neil Selwyn. Titled Digital Skills for Life & Work from UNESCO’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, it considers the skills and competencies needed over the next 15 years for living and work.

The report examines how the education sector can make sure that these essential digital skills are developed by all.

The Report scanned the globe for examples of innovative practice and found that successful digital skills development depended on multi-stakeholder collaborations between government, NGOs and the private sector, alongside a sensitivity to local contexts and communities.

It directs special attention to the often-overlooked ‘soft’ skills required to thrive in a technology-saturated world. These include understanding the implications of online activities; recognition of privacy considerations; knowledge of how to engage as responsible citizens in online environments; and awareness of how artificial intelligence, big data and algorithms affect individuals and communities.

Professor Selwyn said working on the report, which has already been discussed in the UK House of Lords, was a challenge to think about the global future implications of his own area of research:

“The process of being involved in this report has been a privilege. It’s pleasing to see our academic  research can have policy impact on a global stage. Organisations such as UNESCO are focussed on how we can achieve digital skills for all - while 3.9 billion people have access to the internet 3.7 billion do not,” he said.

Based on the report, Dr Selwyn suggests that in the next 15 years people will have to get increasing used to technology being ‘done to’ them rather than directly controlling and using technology as we do now.

“This will be in an environment where everything is connected. With an ‘Internet of Things’ of billions of networked devices, systems will be increasingly automated and at arms’ length.

This introduces a whole new range of competencies and understandings. As more aspects of our lives are shaped by data-based systems, we need to understand how these systems work and how we can work with them,” he said.

The Report offers a series of policy recommendations and advises governments to maintain public involvement in digital skills development and increase efforts to address inequalities in the provision of digital skills and competencies.

Included in the Report is a compendium of case studies illustrating successful examples of public and private sector working together in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America to ensure that all people have the skills and competencies they need to participate in the knowledge-based economy of the future.​

Dr Selwyn said while the process of thinking about the future at this scale is challenging, it is important to engage with impending technical, social and ethical aspects of how it will be to live in the digital age.