Working Group on
Education, 2017

How can digital skills development help bridge the digital divide?

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s 2017 Working Group on Education examined how digital skills and competencies could be defined and developed within and beyond formal curricula. Co-Chaired by Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and Mr. John Galvin, Vice President and General Manager of Government and Education at the Intel Corporation, the Working Group’s report underlines the importance of steadfast commitment to digital skills development; offers recommendations on supporting the sustainable and equitable development of digital skills for all stakeholders; and includes a collection of case studies which examine how different organizations have forged digital skills for life and work across the world.

This Working Group builds on the research and recommendations produced by the Working Group on Education in 2013 and has been followed by several Working groups focusing on school connectivity, child online safety, and digital learning. Visit our focus area on education to learn more. 

Setting the Stage

Background Overview

Digital technologies underpin effective participation across many aspects of everyday live and work. In addition to technology access, the skills and competencies needed to make use of digital technology and benefit from its growing power and functionality have become increasingly essential. Existing digital inequalities and disadvantages raise the need for stakeholders across public and private sectors to pay close attention to broadband and ICT policies, especially as they relate to education. Having reached a point where the ability to make meaningful use of digital technology determines, to a significant extent, an individual’s ability to participate in modern societies and economies, the need for action and intervention is obvious. The equitable and sustainable development of digital skills through education is unlikely to occur without the deliberate and directed intervention of a range of stakeholders.  

The term ‘digital skills’ refers to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviors, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings. 

The Way Forward

Conclusions and Recommendations

The 2017 Working Group on Education’s report titled Digital Skills for Life and Work assesses existing education practices and policies, how to lay a foundation for equitable and high-quality digital skills development, and future challenges and issues. The report finds that while digital skills education and training have evolved over the years, the quality and effectiveness of their provision remain inconsistent. 

The Report identifies three categories of skills required for the digital society and digital economy: 1) Basic functional digital skills: Accessing and engaging with digital technologies; 2) Generic digital skills: Using digital technologies in meaningful and beneficial ways; 3) ‘Higher level’ skills: using digital technology in empowering and transformative ways.  

Pronounced inequalities and disparities exist in terms of individuals’ digital skills and competencies within communities, countries and regions. Reconciling these gaps will require more than technology alone. Holistic approaches — encompassing policy, implementation, funding and partnership — are needed to ensure that all learners have opportunities to cultivate relevant digital skills. 

Pillars of this broad and multifaceted approach include:  

The key strategic recommendations of this Working Group’s report are:
  • Establish accountable agencies within governments to lead the development, regulation and implementation of national strategies and master plans for digital skills development.  
  • Under the competence of the accountable governmental agencies, develop strategies to broker, expand and improve multistakeholder partnerships that facilitate digital skills education.  
  • Incentivize IT firms, internet service providers and other private sector organizations to support inclusive and equitable digital skills development, including programmes to upgrade the skills of workers, ideally with oversight from neutral, non-commercial brokers.  
  • Develop and endorse policies to promote Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and to openly license the digital skills development resources and other OER produced with public funds, as called for in the Paris OER Declaration (UNESCO, 2012c).  
  • Formulate education policies that promote and monitor the inclusion of digital skills development for disadvantaged groups irrespective of gender, age, race or disability.  
  • Encourage non-formal digital skills providers to deliver programmes for out-of-school children, youth and adults, especially illiterate or unemployed adults through flexible face-to-face programmes in well-established community spaces and through affordable digital technology, including mobile phones (UNESCO, 2013a).  
  • Prioritize public investment and incentivize the private sector to support gender equality in digital skills development with a particular focus on promoting girls’ and women’s participation, achievement and continuation in STEM studies and careers.  
  • Set up collaborative taskforce teams of education institutions, IT industries and academic institutes to enhance the development and provision of curricula and programmes for digital skills development.  
  • Set up quality assurance and accreditation mechanisms to 
    monitor the quality of digital skills development programmes and facilitate the recognition of skills across levels of studies, education providers and possibly across borders.  
  • Make digital skills a key component of teacher training, with reference to UNESCO’s ICT Competency Framework for Teachers (2011). Guide the review and updating of programmes to enable teachers to benefit from digital technologies and improve the digital literacy of students.  
  • Enhance the digital skills of teachers and develop collaborative capacity-building mechanisms between education institutions and IT industries.  
  • Support national statistics agencies and other agencies in regularly collecting disaggregated digital skills data, including through individual assessments, to facilitate a more robust and comprehensive understanding of digital skill divides.  
  • Explore the possibilities of aggregated usage of automatically generated data on the use of digital platforms and services as a means of mapping patterns of digital competencies and skills.  
  • Include, where relevant, questions in annual household surveys to gather self-reported information about individuals’ digital skill levels and digital skill needs. Also, encourage countries to share collected data with relevant international organizations, including UNESCO and ITU, to facilitate global and regional analysis.  

The Members of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Education recognize that the active engagement of the international community, including multi- and bilateral actors as well as private institutions and civil society, is of vital importance to address the policy challenges related to digital skills for life and work. They recommend that the Broadband Commission:

  • Provides adequate platforms for international exchange on policies, instruments and approaches through South-South and North-South cooperation 
  • Explores the feasibility of setting up an international framework for digital skills and competencies in order to inform national policies, facilitate international comparisons as well as cross-border recognition and provide conceptual references for measurement of digital skills in collaboration with UNESCO and ITU 
  • Supports the monitoring of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) by identifying the percentage of youth and adults with ICT skills as called for in SDG Target 4.4.1. With the technical support of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, ITU and other concerned organizations, the Commission should also facilitate the development of cross-national statistical frameworks and data platforms for both regional and global monitoring of digital skills acquisition

The Working Group Model

Composition and Activities

The re-launch of a Broadband Commission Working Group on Education was proposed in New York in September 2016 at the Annual Fall Meeting. It builds on the previous work of the Commission on Education in 2013. This Group held one meeting in January 2017 and had an onsite meeting at the Broadband Commission Spring meeting 2017 held in Hong Kong SAR of China on March 15th.

Focus Area

Outcome Resources


Ms. Irina Bokova
Director General, UNESCO

Mr. John Galvin
VP, Government & Education, Intel Corporation

Broadband Advocacy Targets