Computing education today is in danger of becoming fixated on coding. This trend might leave young people without the skills they will need to progress in school, further studies, and work.

The fallacy of ‘digital natives’, born with all the knowledge they need to use computers safely and effectively, risks creating a new digital divide and leaving many young people without vital skills for all areas of life.

After extensive research, we’ve released a new position paper, exploring digital education and suggesting a direction that equips all school students with all necessary digital skills, as well as reinforcing computer science in schools.

“…computing and digital literacy skills should be taught together”

‘Computing and Digital Literacy – Call for a Holistic Approach’, ICDL Foundation

Why is digital education important?

‘We live in the age of the digital native’, or so many would have us believe. But what does the term really mean? Can someone truly pick up digital skills intuitively? Does this mean that there is no need to teach young people how to use computers?

We don’t think so. This idea of digital natives is a dangerous fallacy that risks leaving young people without the competences they need for the workplace, and risks leaving businesses without the skilled employees they need. In an age when ICT skills are essential in almost any job, studies have repeatedly shown that young people have serious gaps in their knowledge of workplace ICT.

We think a digital education is crucial to avoid a new digital divide between those with digital skills and those without.

What needs to be part of digital education?

If a digital education is vital, how should we teach it? Debates about coding in schools, what digital literacy means, and how we can teach computer science, are well under-way. We believe that fundamental digital literacy should be the foundation of a strong digital education.

Computer science/computing

  • Coding/programming
  • Algorithms
  • Data structures
  • Architecture
  • Communication

Digital literacy

  • Word processing
  • Spreadsheets
  • Email
  • Internet search
  • Web browsing

Digital literacy and computing are not mutually exclusive. Just like all school students are taught basic science and have the opportunity to go on to study at a more advanced level, we think that every pupil should have an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of basic computing, introducing the academic discipline. This should be done together with the basic ICT skills developed from the very beginning of a student’s digital education.

e-Skills at schools around the world

United Kingdom (England)

Schools in England teach computer science as a discipline from the primary school level. Coding forms part of the discipline, not a separate subject, and digital literacy skills are developed as part of the curriculum, providing the basis for other subjects.

BBC Learning will distribute a BBC Micro:bit computer to every 11-12 year old student in late 2015. The credit-card sized device has programmable buttons, LEDs, a Bluetooth connection and several sensors.


Starting in 2004, the Bebras coding competition for school students in Lithuania has grown to have more than 500,000 participants in 26 countries.

Hong Kong

Coding has been integrated into the curriculum in several schools, and is available as an after-school activity in some learning centres.

United States

The Hour of Code campaign provides free beginners tutorials and educational resources to students and teachers in the US. The campaign was led by large tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Apple.

A unified approach to e-skills at school

We need a comprehensive digital education for every school pupil. When digital skills are becoming ever more crucial to all areas of life, from work and learning, to social inclusion, there can be no excuse for leaving anyone behind.

With that comprehensive education, we also need to make sure that it is joined-up: digital literacy should be a fundamental part of a digital education, alongside computing. The traditional elements of computer science should be made available to all students, giving them a chance to develop an interest in the discipline.

ECDL Foundation is actively working to provide solutions for the classroom, and is present in many schools across Europe. We are actively engaged in exploring how to define the relevant essential skills and knowledge in the area of computing in a way that complements the acquisition of digital literacy.

Quotes about e-skills in schools

“Researchers and policy makers urgently need to broaden their thinking about digital skills. There is too little knowledge about the basic digital skills needed to participate fully in everyday life. The current focus on higher level skills such as coding is overshadowing the debate. These skills are of course important for the economy, but since we do not understand what impact the lack of basic digital skills has on a lack of opportunities to participate in the economic, social and cultural life of Britain, we need to go back to basics. More work is needed to think systematically about which digital skills are necessary to achieve tangible beneficial social outcomes and avoid those which are potentially negative.”

Ellen Helsper, London School of Economics

“Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.”

Jeannette M. Wing, Carnegie Mellon University

“It would be wrong to see England’s Computing curriculum as being just about coding, or even just about computer science – it’s much more inclusive than that. As Britain’s Royal Society recommended, our curriculum now includes elements of computer science, information technology and digital literacy.”

Miles Berry, Computing at School

“We, as politicians, have a moral responsibility to ensure access to digital skills education.”

Catherine Stihler, MEP

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