Greater efforts needed to equip all Europeans with basic digital skills
In today’s world, digital skills are increasingly important. However, within the EU, little progress has been made in recent years in improving basic digital competence among adult Europeans. The Commission has issued guidance and supported Member States, but there have been relatively
few EU-funded projects focusing on basic digital literacy for adults.
In 2019, more than 75 million European adults of working age did not have at least basic digital skills. This was particularly the case for older people, those with a low level of education and the unemployed. At the same time, over 90 % of jobs already require at least basic digital skills
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of basic digital skills for citizens,” said Iliana Ivanova, the ECA member responsible for the review. “We observe that adults with higher digital competence find jobs more easily; they also earn more than their less skilled peers. Our
review shows that the EU has long recognized the importance of basic digital skills for all citizens but there is still a lot to be done. Now is the ideal time to shed light on this issue and I hope that our key stakeholders will find our review useful in their preparations for the start of the new 2021-2027 program period”.
Education and vocational training is a Member State responsibility. However, the digital divide between adults with and without basic digital skills varies considerably between Member States. According to the indicators used by the Commission, levels of basic digital competence within Member States have not significantly improved in recent years.
From 2015 onwards, the Commission took a number of measures to improve citizens’ digital skills. As a result, between 2016 and 2018, national projects under the “Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition” initiative offered nearly 11 million Europeans of all age groups a chance to improve their digital literacy. However, around half of those were primary and secondary school students, and there are no figures on what impact such activities ultimately had on this initiative’s objectives.
Activities in the specific area of basic digital skills for adults are normally part of wider initiatives. This generally makes it impossible to determine the total EU funds spent in this area alone. Nevertheless, the available data suggests that funding specifically for adult digital upskilling is relatively low: for instance, projects specifically addressing digital training in the Member States represented only around 2 % of total ESF funding in the 2014-2020 period, even though this was a priority area.
For 2021-2027, the Commission has for the first time set a specific objective to increase the proportion of citizens with basic digital skills, from 56 % in 2019 to 70 % in 2025. In order to assist lawmakers and the authorities involved in programming and program implementation, the auditors point to some challenges. These relate to the allocation of specific amounts of future EU program the definition of sub-objectives and milestones and the consistent assessment of digital skills in a constantly and rapidly changing digital environment.