Helping to build a digital future for a new Northern Ireland

Equipping children with the tools to build their future in the developing digital world has become a focal point for the Northern Ireland Education Authority

In 2020, most of our human connections and interactions went virtual, meaning we quickly had to learn how to replicate our daily, real-world experiences in a digital environment.

Teachers, learners, parents and children faced immense challenges, with those in an education, and teaching in particular, having to brave new ways of inspiring and motivating children and young people to learn from home, while maintaining enthusiasm and remaining engaging and creative in their delivery.

Digital literacy as a workplace essential

Digital literacy has long been important, but it has now become even more essential as we learn to live, work and operate in a new environment. However, a recent study by the Learning and Work Institute, commissioned by WorkSkills UK, found that less than half of British employers believe pupils and students are leaving full-time education without the advanced digital skills needed to enter the workplace.

In turn, young people are becoming increasingly savvy about what they want from education and are seeking a varied curriculum that allows them to develop more contemporary skills – including digital literacy. Alongside the core traditional academic subjects we’re accustomed to (numeracy, literacy), going forward, we may indeed see curriculums start to evolve and place more emphasis on skills which foster collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. This approach is, in fact, already starting to materialise.

Northern Ireland’s digital development

In recent years, Northern Ireland has welcomed a wealth of dynamic companies who are working with international partners to deliver creative solutions in exciting industries such as animation, e-learning and film. These industries capture the attention of developing imaginations, so ensuring appropriate skills are being learnt to aid future careers is vital.

“Equipping children with the tools to build their future in the developing digital world has become a focal point for the Northern Ireland Education Authority, whereby digital skills is now one of three cross-curricular skills at the heart of the curriculum”

Equipping children with the tools to build their future in the developing digital world has become a focal point for the Northern Ireland Education Authority, whereby digital skills is now one of three cross-curricular skills at the heart of the curriculum. This is to better reflect today’s society and provide young people with the crucial skills needed in today’s workplace.

Following in the footsteps of Wales and as part of its investment in digital upskilling, the Northern Ireland Education Authority has become the second country in the world to adopt Adobe’s creative technology in every school nationwide. Adobe Spark is now available in 1,049 schools to more than 390,000 users across the country at both primary and secondary level, with Creative Cloud also accessible at secondary level. This will help teachers to fully engage their students’ energy and imagination and help bring a fresh perspective to every subject through creative teaching methods.

Digital literacy in higher education 

It’s not just schools that are embracing digital literacy; higher education institutions are also recognising the benefits. Teesside University is an example of this, becoming the first Adobe Creative Campus in Europe. This involves embedding digital literacy across all courses and areas of study to support students in entering a digital-first society and workplace, as well as giving access to Creative Cloud to all students. Faculty members can use creative applications to develop new forms of teaching and assessments that are responsive to the evolving needs and preferences of students.

This future-forward approach to educational delivery methods that are centred around digital can better engage students and therefore, improve academic results. It also complements blended learning styles – which we can expect to see a lot more of as we move into COVID-recovery and as HE institutions seek to attain a competitive edge.

Collaboration for the future

The pandemic has highlighted what we already knew; that tech is fundamental to almost every facet of our lives. As institutions begin innovating and exploring new ways of working, ensuring digital literacy is a core part of the next generation’s curriculum is critical.

This isn’t something that can be achieved in isolation – collaboration between future employers, digital solutions providers, schools and education authorities will be fundamental in transforming and evolving how education is delivered to effectively prepare the future workforce, as well as ensure digital literacy is enabled within more young people.

We all have a role to play in harnessing best practices as we a look at a return to ‘normality’ but at the core, encouraging pupils as they progress to become the next generation of leaders in a digital-first world should take centre stage.


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