Challenging perceptions of the digital native generation

We tend to think of the current generation as being by far the tech savviest and from a marketing perspective this can often colour how we put forward new campaigns and ideas, however the situation also means that for those who do not feel the natural ‘tech savviness’ we feel the current generation has there can be a feeling of digital exclusion. This can also be added to where there are issues of geography or social situation which can affect how people use their digital resources.

A new report launched this week by the Carnegie UK Trust addresses digital exclusion among vulnerable young people in our communities. The #NotWithoutMe pilot programme challenges the assumption that young people are ‘digital natives’ who have basic digital skills or access to learning opportunities.

Supported by Carnegie UK, local projects in Glasgow, Cumbria, Belfast and London ran over 80 practical sessions which saw 100 vulnerable young people get involved to improve their skills. Participants came from a variety of backgrounds and faced different barriers to digital inclusion.

The combined outcomes highlight the challenges society faces in tackling the perception that all children and young people have equal opportunities in developing the required digital ‘life’ skills.

The pilot programme has led the Carnegie UK Trust to outline key recommendations:

  • Digital participation strategies should take specific consideration of vulnerable young people
  • Existing long-term skills development programmes in formal and informal education settings should embed digital skills learning
  • Young people should be involved in shaping digital skills projects
  • Appropriate ongoing training should be provided for the family and professional support networks for young people.

Gina Wilson, Carnegie UK Trust, said: “As a society we are guilty of assuming that young people are digitally proficient and have access to the benefits that digital skills can bring. Digital exclusion, particularly amongst vulnerable young people, is an important and often overlooked issue.

“These four pilot projects highlight the need to invest in young people facing extra challenges in life, whether that be their background or the fact they have a learning disability. In supporting vulnerable young people to develop relevant digital skills and understanding, we can also empower them to access more opportunities, and in turn improve both their social and mental well-being.  This week is ‘Get Online Week’ and, as we encourage more people to explore the digital world, we should be mindful of those who are at risk of exclusion and how we can facilitate much needed support.”

Signal Film and Media works in deprived communities and with marginalised, vulnerable groups to promote digital inclusion as an essential part of social inclusion. Its #NotWithoutMe project ran over 19 sessions with 15 people who were in care, were care leavers or on the cusp of care, to offer them access to digital skills training opportunities.. They also ran sessions with 10 care workers and three foster parents to improve their understanding of the importance of digital skills in developing independence and inclusion.

The group also created three films over the duration of the project.

Loren Slater, Co-Director of Signal Film & Media, said: “#NotWithoutMe allowed us to deeply embed new ways of working with young people who are not only socially and geographically isolated, which hugely increases their risk of digital exclusion, but doubly so in the case of young people in care. This meant there were many personal and social barriers to participation in the project, and being responsive and flexible to their needs was paramount. By making acquisition of basic digital skills an inherent part of a meaningful project with a ‘live’ end product, the approach engendered personal development outcomes of a sense of commitment, purpose and ownership, ultimately yielding improved confidence and self-esteem; in themselves and in being part of the digital world.”

Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap Northern Ireland said: “Digital Inclusion is so important for young people with a learning disability, there is so much they can achieve in becoming part of the digital world and reducing social isolation. There does need to be more appreciation that young people with learning disabilities can take part in digital projects and that they require longer term projects to be more effective and support a diverse range of abilities and interests.”

Louise Macdonald, Chief Executive of Young Scot, said, “As technology develops, we must do everything we can to ensure that no young person is left behind. Carnegie UK Trust’s report contains examples of great projects to promote digital inclusion and we can all use the ideas in #NotWithoutMe to help young people thrive in the digital age.”


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