Nurturing Digital Literacy in Early Education

In our increasingly digital world, it’s essential to prepare our young learners with the necessary skills and understanding to confidently and safely navigate the digital landscape. As educators our role is key to establishing the groundwork for creating digitally literate learners.

Digital Literacy: A Closer Look

Digital literacy extends beyond the basic ability to use a computer or browse the internet. It encompasses a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge needed to be a proficient, safe, and critical user of diverse computer systems. Digital literacy involves understanding the technical, societal, and ethical implications of technology, which will empower students to critically assess new applications and technologies.

The Role of Digital Literacy in the Curriculum

In the national curriculum for England, computing is a compulsory subject from key stage 1 to 4 (ages 5–16). This curriculum covers a variety of topics, from coding to understanding how computers work, to digital literacy. The curriculum emphasizes that “Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.”

A Progressive Approach

Key Stage 1

At this stage, learners come with a diverse range of experiences due to varying access to technology. Some learners may have already developed digital skills and confidence at home, using it for entertainment, communication, socializing, etc. However, these experiences may primarily involve portable devices like mobile phones, tablets, and gaming devices. Learners who have used general-purpose devices — PCs and laptops — may have had only limited access to a shared device.

At this stage, there is a clear emphasis on using devices, such as keyboards and mice. This may be unfamiliar to learners as it requires fine motor skills. Much like learning to use a pen or a pencil, the use of these input devices is fundamental to acquiring digital skills.

Learners also develop their understanding of what digital technology is and how we use it, identifying examples from home, school, and their wider experience. They gain practical experience in recognizing and using both controllable and programmable devices.

Key Stage 2

As learners advance into key stage 2, they bring with them a solid foundation of digital literacy. They are able to utilize computing devices, including a keyboard and mouse, to create text and graphics. They also have some experience in using technology to organize and categorize simple data.

Learners broaden their use of technology to include input and output devices, as well as a wide range of general-purpose software. Skills previously learnt in isolation begin to be applied, combined, and further developed. Learners work with a greater sense of purpose to create a variety of media, including sound, video, webpages, and more.

Learners are able to find, select, organize, and present data and information for a purpose. They also learn how technology can be used to safely communicate information around the world.

Our Role in Cultivating Digital Literacy

As educators, we play a crucial role in cultivating digital literacy. We can support our students by:

Establishing a safe and supportive learning environment: Encourage students to explore and experiment with digital tools. Make sure they understand the importance of online safety and ethical behaviour.

Incorporating digital literacy across the curriculum: Digital literacy is not just about computing lessons. It can be integrated into all subjects. For example, students can use digital tools to research a history project, create a presentation for science, or write a story in English.

Providing opportunities for hands-on learning: Let students learn by doing. Provide opportunities for them to use different software, devices, and applications. This will help them become confident and competent users of technology.

Promoting critical thinking: Teach students to critically evaluate their choice of software tools, the digital products they create, and the impact of different tools and technologies on society.

Pursuing professional development: As educators, we should always continue to learn and update our digital skills. There are many professional development opportunities available for computing teachers.

The So What

Nurturing digital literacy in the primary years requires incorporating digital literacy across the curriculum, providing hands-on learning opportunities, and promoting critical thinking. In this way we can equip our students with the skills and knowledge they need to confidently and safely navigate the digital world.

Further Reads: What is Digital Literacy, Information Technology and Computer Science?


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