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Research capsule

Beyond the clichés about the digital skills of youth

It is often said that young people born into today’s digital world are highly proficient in information and communication technologies. However, this common preconception does not reflect the reality observed by teachers, as noted by Jean Gabin Ntebutse, an education researcher at Université de Sherbrooke.

Young people's proficiency is not as developed as one might think.

The researcher conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 teachers in the Eastern Townships. Teachers are in an ideal position to observe and comment on young people’s relationships with digital tools and technologies, an issue that is especially important in the context of education reform that places considerable emphasis on the development of digital skills.

The teachers interviewed affirmed that their students have good basic digital abilities, but that their proficiency is not as developed as one might think. For example, students’ use of the more advanced functions of programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, remains limited.

Moreover, digital proficiency is not simply a question of pushing the right buttons. Jean Gabin Ntebutse also sought to determine whether the students possessed metacognitive skills (for example, the ability to assess or critically analyze the information they find on the Internet) and ethical skills (respect for privacy, online relationships with others, etc.). In both cases, the teachers deplored the low level of understanding and awareness shown by their students. This highlights the need to better educate young people about different aspects of the use of digital tools.

Jean Gabin Ntebutse’s research also indicates that we must stop presenting “young people” as a monolithic group when in fact, depending on their socioeconomic and cultural background, they have different digital skills and understandings that need to be taken into account. Breaching the digital divide is a crucial issue for education systems, and it is important that research continue with the aim of guiding strategies that will foster the development of digital skills for all students.