In this interview, Graciela Sbertoli, Chair of the EBSN, asks Celia Sokolowsky, project leader for the German online learning platform “Ich will Deutsch lernen", about the relationship between digital skills and migrant education.
Q: Why is it important to include digital skills in any discussion about basic skills training for immigrants?
A: Digital skills are absolutely key competences in an increasingly digitalized society. As information and communication technologies have penetrated all realms of contemporary life, access to the labour market, learning opportunities and social ressources, active citizenship and political participation are more and more bound up with digital skills. These do not only include the handling of computers and the use of digital media but also infomation processing and retrieval, the production of digital media, sharing of knowledge and participation in social networks.
Moreover, digital skills themselves are increasingly a prerequisite for access to and participation in education and training making them key skills too for the participation of adults in lifelong learning. A wide range of professional skills are also closely connected to digital competences.
The digitalization of our societies has also improved the availability, diversity and accessibility of learning learning opportunities. To benefit from these and learn, individually or collaboratively, in a computer-supported environment users are required to have digital skills but also competences with respect to accessing, managing and evaluating information. In this respect, we can see that fundamental learning to learn skills are interconnected with digital skills. It is that We should therefore not regard digital skills as an add-on to basic skills training but instead as an essential component within it.
A closer look at the target group ”immigrants” shows that most are already digitally skilled, at least to some extent. Data from Germany suggests that immigrants make more use of digital media than the native population. They use social networks and Skype to keep in touch with their familiy and others who stayed behind or migrated to different places. Refugees in great part rely on their smartphones in order to find their way to and through Europe. In doing so they have also acquired excellent problem-solving skills. These existing skills form a sound foundation for adult education and any integration program.
Q: What is in your opinion the current situation in the European Adult Education sector regarding the use of digital tools for learning? Are teachers well prepared? Do they have the tools and infrastructure they need?
A: Speaking about Germany I cannot really paint a positive picture. We have a severe lack of infrastructure – general problems with slow internet connections and rigid conditions for internet provision. I would also assert that the majority of adult education centres are underequipped in terms of technical devices, tools and knowledge. Teachers also show a reluctance to turn to digital training, often pointing to the poor infrastructure. Frankly, I think it will be the learners who will move our learning culture into the digital age.
Today’s classroom is full of high-performing mobile digital devices – when you look at the group of students. If teachers can develop techniques and methods to incorporate the technical and personal ressources of their students into their learning programmes in order to support learning in the classroom and beyond, it will be of real benefit for lifelong learning.
Q: How can a European network (EBSN) contribute to foster quality environments, models and practice to increase digital skills among immigrants to Europe? What needs to be done at policy level?
A: Adult education in the conext of digitalization is more than simple training of basic user skills in order to meet the needs of the labour market. It’s also about cultural, political and social change, and is, in turn, also connected to the restructuring of work. Social partipation requires new skills – competences in information management and communication – and adult education can play a key role in establishing a process of lifelong learning, bridging the digital devide and imparting these skills.
Digital skills training should be regarded as an integral part of all basic skills programmes and we need to continuously foster the development of quality models. The task of integrating immigrants and the development of digital skills are permanent responsibilities and challenges.
Celia Sokolowsky works for Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband andis project leader for the German online learning platform “Ich will Deutsch lernen".