copy the linklink copied!Chapter 11. Fostering digital literacy and well-being

Digital inclusion and skills are required to participate in different facets of daily life in the 21st century. Children need adequate digital access and skills, and they need to be resilient online and offline. This chapter explores how education systems foster digital literacy and well-being. It shows how countries employ a number of strategies to foster digital access and inclusion, while ensuring they have adequate social and emotional skills to maintain well-being online and offline. Countries also grapple with the challenge of promoting the use of digital technologies while also ensuring well-being, with many developing and disseminating guidelines recommending limits to children’s exposure to screens. Equipping children with the right tools to be digital citizens requires education systems to ensure development of adequate digital, and social and emotional skills, while balancing the potential health effects associated with digital screen engagement.


copy the linklink copied!Introduction

Fostering emotional well-being, digital skills and resilience in children is essential to ensure that they become confident, happy and productive contributors to society. It is also important in reducing inequalities in well-being outcomes. Education systems around the world should therefore take a holistic and integrative approach towards well-being, taking into account factors that can negatively affect well-being and inclusion in online and offline spaces. These approaches should promote both digital and social and emotional skills, build resilience and highlight “softer” digital skills such as content creation and collaboration.

Together, strong digital skills coupled with social and emotional skills lay the foundation for development of important skills such as digital literacy, online collaboration and communication, and computational thinking. This combination is important, as simply promoting digital access and skills is not enough to ensure inclusion and equal outcomes, especially for disadvantaged youth (see Chapter 9). Taking a strong, comprehensive approach to online and offline vulnerabilities and skills may help further reduce social inequalities, and promote resilience in online and offline spaces.

Following previous chapters in this volume, which explored the effects of digital technologies on children, including potential risks and benefits (i.e. social, informational, etc.), this chapter focuses on how systems promote digital access, skills and well-being through digital policies and guidelines. Ensuring full participation of children in 21st century society now and in the future requires systems to break down barriers to participation and access, and critically assess their emotional well-being from various perspectives, including important elements of digital inclusion and resilience.

copy the linklink copied!Ensuring digital access and building digital skills

Digital divides have received considerable academic and policy attention over the years (Livingstone and Helsper, 2007[1]). Digital participation and skills can improve people’s social and civic lives, with platforms providing spaces to seek help and foster social inclusion (OECD, 2018[2]), while on the other hand exposing them to risks (OECD, 2019[3]). A number of factors shape digital inequalities, such as access to materials, usage and skills. Some scholars stress the importance of policies targeting digital divides to address these issues simultaneously (Van Deursen and Van Dijk, 2015[4]; Van Deursen and Helsper, 2018[5]). Almost all students from OECD countries who participated in PISA 2015 reported having access to the Internet at home; however this average masks important differences between participating countries and economies. While access is near universal for children in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Slovenia, access in OECD countries such as Chile, Mexico and Turkey ranges from 54% to just over 80%, which limits some children’s access to information and participation in online spaces (OECD, 2017[6]). Addressing digital divides will help foster inclusiveness, and avoid compounding existing inequalities due to the digital transformation (OECD, 2019[7]).

Enabling access to digital technologies

The first digital divide refers to inequality in access to technology. This is an important issue to address, especially for already vulnerable populations (e.g. disadvantaged children). According to the countries that responded to the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire, some of the main factors that contribute to the first digital divide are:

  • geographic distance

  • restricted bandwidth

  • inequality

  • lack of school equipment/large gaps between schools regarding access

  • lack of foreign language skills

  • lack of teacher expertise.

Many of the countries that struggle with the first digital divide have large urban/rural divides such as Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United States. In many systems, it is concerning that teachers and schools do not have access to the most up-to-date software and digital knowledge, and between-school differences in broadband and hardware access persist. In TALIS 2018, 25% of school leaders reported a shortage or inadequacy of information and communication technology (ICT) for instruction as hindering the provision of quality instruction, while 35% of teachers reported that investing in ICT should be of “high importance” in terms of spending priorities (OECD, 2019[8]). A lack of online resources in local languages, along with factors such as lack of relevant content, high cost and lack of technological support can additionally act as barriers to individuals from disadvantaged communities using digital technologies and the Internet (Chen and Wellman, 2004[9]).

Policies and practices

Table 11.1 gives examples of national or regional initiatives to tackle the first digital divide. In some systems, hardware and software provision is done on a more local level. For example, in the Czech Republic, Mexico and Scotland (United Kingdom), either local authorities or individual schools set out plans to provide access to devices.

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Table 11.1. Targeting the first digital divide

FATIH programme (Turkey)

The FATIH programme in Turkey provides hardware and software to schools, classrooms, teachers and students. For each school, the initiative aims to establish infrastructure, a multifunctional printer and high-speed Internet access, and teachers and students will have access to various resources such as email accounts, cloud software and learning resources. Initiated in 2010, this programme is conducted by the Ministry of National Education, supported by the Ministry of Transportation, and by 2019 has equipped 620 000 state schools with smartboards, and 17 million tablets to students, with one million tablets to teachers and administrators.

Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 (Ireland)

The fourth pillar of Ireland’s Digital Strategy, which targets all of education from the early years through higher education and beyond, is ICT infrastructure. It has made EUR 210 million available to education institutions and schools to purchase resources in line with identified national priorities. Receiving future funding depends on meeting certain conditions such as transparency regarding how the funding has been used, intentions being made clear for use of future funding, and evidence of a Digital Learning Plan.

National broadband plan (Ireland, Australia)

In Ireland, the National Broadband Plan aims to deliver high-speed Internet access across the country to citizens and businesses. Premises that do not have high-speed broadband have been identified, and a company is being appointed (through a competitive dialogue process) to build, maintain and operate the network over a 25-year period. In 2019 the Government approved the appointment of the “preferred bidder”.

In Australia, the National Broadband Network is being rolled out, with expected completion in 2020.

Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy (Scotland)

This strategy, launched in 2016, is to ensure improved access to ICT for students. Other objectives include developing skill and confidence of educators in appropriate and effective use of digital technologies in the teaching and learning process, ensuring digital technologies are central considerations in curriculum and assessment delivery, and empowering leaders of change to drive innovation and investment in digital technologies for teaching and learning. This initiative is not funded at the national level; local authorities are responsible for funding improvements.

Cyberclasse and Cyber écoles (French Community of Belgium)

Between 2006-2013 cyberclasse used a EUR 85 million budget to equip over 800 000 students with ICT equipment. Wallonia provided infrastructure and equipment, with community-supported integration into educational contexts. Cyber écoles is an initiative involving multiple partners such as Wallonia, the French Speaking Community of Belgium and the German Speaking Community of Belgium. This project’s goal is to equip schools with hardware, and started in 1998.

One2one (Luxembourg)

One2one is a national strategy to deploy iPads or iPad-type mobile devices in secondary and technical secondary schools. The Centre de gestion informatique de l’éducation (CGIE) put in place a programme to pluriannually acquire devices for high schools. The national strategy is based on an annual rental model.

Digital Glasgow Strategy (Scotland, United Kingdom)

Glasgow city council is expanding Wi-Fi availability to classrooms, increasing Internet speeds, and are rolling out a 1:1 project to all students and educational staff as part of the Digital Glasgow Strategy initiated in 2018. This project involves distributing 55 000 iPads and other digital technology devices, and placing digital leadership at the heart of School Improvement Plans. This initiative has been done in close collaboration with both national agencies and suppliers.

Note: It would be important also to have information on the effectiveness of these approaches (i.e. evaluation of progress or impact).

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

Access to digital devices in schools

Policies targeting children’s access to and use of digital devices in schools vary across systems. This can range from restricting or forbidding the use of devices in schools to providing devices that children can use both in school and bring home with them. In general, schools are adopting more individually owned forms of computing, rather than the traditional institutionally provided “shared” devices (Selwyn et al., 2017[10]). This is reflected in the responses to the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire shown in Figure 11.1; a number of systems report implementing one-to-one policies, which signifies that there is a one-to-one ratio of devices to learners, or bring your own device (BYOD) schemes.

Some systems do not legislate BYOD or one-to-one computing in schools, but rather provide schools with information to help them implement school-based policies. For example, the Western Australia Department of Education has a website outlining the steps schools can take to implement BYOD practices, as well as information on implementing ICT-rich classrooms, focusing on equity, affordability, scalability and sustainability (Department of Education, n.d.[11]). Guidelines such as those developed by the Department of Education of New South Wales (Australia) suggest ensuring completion of a signed BYOD agreement from students and parents/caregivers. Other recommendations include involving community consultation in developing school policies, and that prior to implementation of a BYOD policy, information should be given to key stakeholders such as parents, teachers, caregivers and students (NSW Department of Education, 2018[12]).

In some contexts, whole-school policies are promoted to address the use of digital devices. For example, Circular 0038/2018 issued in Ireland in 2018 sets out guidelines to set policies on incorporating digital devices in the school environment. It suggests that relevant policies in schools can address acceptable usage, cyberbullying, data protection, BYOD and well-being to ensure safe and ethical Internet use. According to the literature, opting for a whole-school approach to online safety and usage issues is effective (Hooft Graafland, 2018[13]).

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Figure 11.1. Policies on the use of devices in schools or classrooms
Countries responding “yes” to the question: Do you have any of the following national or regional policies or recommendations regarding the use of devices in schools or classrooms?
Figure 11.1. Policies on the use of devices in schools or classrooms

Note: Respondents could choose more than one option. 19 systems responded to this item.

1 to 1 access suggests a 1 to 1 ratio of devices to students.

Classroom on demand: 1:1 ratio of devices to students in a classroom; students do not keep devices with them throughout the day.

1 to 1 in school: students keep devices with them throughout the day; devices are not taken home with students. 1 to 1 24/7: students are assigned a device that they keep throughout the year and can take home to use for schoolwork.

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

Device access is often regulated at the level of the school, and one-to-one or BYOD programmes can look very different in different schools. Some examples include:

  • simply bringing a device that complies with the school’s computer network

  • ‘managed BYOD programme’ where students lease or purchase one of four specified laptop models

  • programmes where students buy/are loaned a tablet (Selwyn et al., 2017[10]).

It might be important to assess the types of devices to which children are gaining access. For example, being able to access the Internet on mobile devices (i.e. a mobile phone or tablet) reduces the divide in access, however the possibility exists for new inequalities to emerge in terms or skills and usage patterns (Mascheroni and Ólafsson, 2016[14]). No matter the methods that schools use to equip students with ICT and digital technology, mitigating social inequalities or divides should be at the forefront of any policy. Ensuring that policies are not exclusionary and that they promote equal access to digital devices is crucial in combatting digital as well as social divides.

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Box 11.1. Leave your devices at home

While bring your own device policies are gaining traction in schools, some systems are taking a different approach: 11 systems responding to the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire reported forbidding personal devices in school. Additionally, 13 systems restrict the times that students can use personal devices during school hours.

Forbidding children to use their devices, or even from bringing them to school, has given rise to discussions in a number of countries around human rights. For example, in 2017 The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) ruled that cell phone bans or confiscation at school violate students’ freedom of communication, specifically Article 18 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the “privacy of correspondence of no citizen shall be infringed,” as well as the students’ unalienable rights to pursue happiness (Lee, 2016[15]). This ruling followed the implementation of a ban on cell phone use during school hours by a middle school in Gyeonggi Province. Students subsequently filed a petition for this policy to be overturned. The NHRCK suggested that schools implement a more detailed policy, such as a restriction of cell phone use in class rather than an all-out ban.

In 2018, French lawmakers banned smartphones and other Internet-connected devices in schools. This ban applies to schoolchildren between age 3 and 15, while high schools may choose to implement them on a school-by-school basis. Smartphones were already banned since 2010 during teaching activities. The new law makes exceptions for certain groups of students (e.g. those with disabilities) or when smartphones are used for “pedagogical” purposes (Ministère de l’Education nationale, 2018[16]). Greece also has a ban on personal devices at the national level. Sub-nationally legislated bans tend to be more common and are implemented in the French community of Belgium, Ontario (Canada), Latvia, Mexico, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States. The New South Wales (Australia) Department of Education implemented a restriction on mobile devices in public primary schools in December 2018 (NSW Department of Education, 2018[12]).

Access to devices alone is not sufficient to ensure equality in digital opportunities, and leads to questions about factors that have an impact on use, such as social and cultural factors (Livingstone and Helsper, 2007[1]). Closing the first digital divide through enhancing citizen access, such as through the provision of broadband, can help reduce inequalities. Providing home Internet access in low-income households can help close the gap in use, potentially reducing disadvantage (Livingstone and Helsper, 2007[1]). Furthermore, patterns in inequalities in certain device usage or ownership can differ based on a number of factors such as country of residence, experience with the Internet and age of the child. For example, parental use of smartphones or tablets may be a stronger predictor of smartphone usage than socio-economic status (Mascheroni and Ólafsson, 2016[14]).

Promoting digital skills and inclusion

The 21st century saw a shift in importance from physical access to digital technologies, to skills and usage (Van Dijk, 2017[17]), with the emergence of the notion of the second digital divide (Hargittai, 2002[18]). Research suggests that despite their reputation as so-called “digital natives”, 21st century children still face inequalities in access, motivations, usage and skills regarding the Internet (Mascheroni and Ólafsson, 2016[14]) (also see Chapter 9). As with the first digital divide, demographic factors influence motivations for using the Internet. Some demographic factors that have an impact on Internet skills and digital exclusion include gender, age, income, employment and disability; however, some findings suggest that “what people do online and the skills they have are more important than who they are when it comes to inequalities in outcomes of Internet use” (Van Deursen and Helsper, 2018[5]).

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Box 11.2. DigComp 2.0

The European Commission’s Digital Competence Framework 2.0

The European Commission started the Digital Competence Framework project in 2010, with the aims of identifying the key components of Digital Competence regarding knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be “digitally competent”. For policy makers, it can be used to monitor the digital skills of citizens and support curricula development.

DigComp 2.0 highlights 5 key components of digital competence:

  1. 1. information and data literacy

  2. 2. communication and collaboration

  3. 3. digital content creation

  4. 4. safety

  5. 5. problem solving.

Each competence dimension features a number of sub-dimensions. For example, dimension 2, communication and collaboration, features interacting through digital technologies, sharing through digital technologies, engaging in citizenship through digital technologies, collaborating through digital technologies, netiquette and managing digital identity as relevant sub-dimensions.

European Union Member states have endorsed the framework, and have used it in different ways including to enhance teacher professional development, for student assessment, for employability purposes, and for policy support and framework implementation. For example, Spain based the development of the Common Framework for Teacher Digital Competence on DigComp, while the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education uses it as a reference to develop a digital competence framework of their own.

Source: European Commission (2019[31])

Policies and practices

Countries take many different approaches to target the second digital divide. Many approaches focus on different factors associated with the promotion of digital skills and inclusion; these can be holistic, and can be part of broader strategies also targeting lifelong learning, or encompass higher education as well as compulsory education. For example, in Ireland (ICT Skills Action Plan) and Portugal (InCoDe.2030), wide-ranging policies with different pillars and targets are implemented to address the second digital divide. In contrast, in Australia, for example, a number of more targeted policies tackle different elements of the issue such as teacher education and curriculum development. Generally, policy and action plans target curriculum or support for curriculum implementation, learning frameworks, teacher education, extracurricular activities, or provide information to stakeholders on how to target digital skills and inclusion of children; some examples are summarised in Table 11.2.

Tackling the second digital divide is a priority in many systems given the increasing emphasis on digital methods to deliver lessons, test students and for student studying. For example, national tests in Sweden are currently being digitalised, and will be implemented throughout all school forms and for all subjects that have national tests. Systems such as Korea and Russia are also integrating digital textbooks into their classrooms.

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Table 11.2. Targeting the second digital divide
Examples of policies and practices to tackle the second digital divide.



Curriculum & implementation

Digital Technologies in Focus (Australia): this programme provides support for disadvantaged schools in implementing the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies through specialist digital technologies and provision of ICT Curriculum Officers.

Digital Literacy School Grants (Australia): this initiative funds projects in schools supporting innovative ways of implementing the curriculum. Priority is given to under-represented and disadvantaged groups.

Digital Technologies Hub (Australia): provision of learning resources and activities to help support implementation of the curriculum.

2020 Curriculum (Norway): the new curriculum in Norway for 2020 will include digital skills.

ICT Skills Action Plan (Ireland): Ireland has implemented three Skills Action Plan reforms, the most recent of which was implemented in 2019. The recently concluded 2014-2018 Action Plan included provisions for promoting career opportunities to primary and secondary level students, involved curricular reform, and provision of ICT-related professional development opportunities for teachers.

InCoDe.2030 (Portugal): ICT has been expanded in the basic curriculum, first in a pilot of 223 schools. This was then integrated into curricular matrices of all the years of basic education across all schools.

Saskatchewan’s Practical and Applied Arts curricula (Saskatchewan, Canada): this redesigned curriculum for k-12 includes robotics, automation and computer science.

Learning framework & school-based strategies

Digital Learning Framework for Schools (Ireland): rolled out in the 2018/2019 school year, this is one component of the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020. Schools and teachers are given a structure allowing them to identify where they are in terms of embedding digital technologies into teaching and learning, and how they can progress in this domain.

National Reference Framework (Luxembourg): the national reference framework is due for implementation in 2019.

“Pact of Excellence” (French Belgium): each school will devise a strategy for integrating digital schools into learning and the governance of the school, with the aim of closing the digital divide.

Digital Action Plan for Education and Higher Education (Quebec, Canada): this action plan supports and guides the integration of new technologies in schools. It aims to achieve effective and optimal integration and use of digital technologies to promote lifelong skills development and maintenance.

Digital Education Strategy (Czech Republic): this initiative, proposed for 2020, aims to ensure non-discriminatory access to digital educational resources, ensure conditions for development of digital skills in students and teachers, ensure the reinforcement of educational infrastructure, and to encourage the integration and understanding of digital technologies into schools.

National Strategy for the digitalisation of the Swedish school system 2017-2022: digital competence is one of the three main pillars of this national strategy, alongside equity in access and usage of digital tools, and research and evaluation on the effects of digitalisation in school.

Teacher education

Digital Technologies MOOCs (Australia): these courses offered by the University of Adelaide offer free professional development for teachers on the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies.

ICT Skills Action Plan (Ireland): training opportunities to promote digital skill development in learners.

InCoDe.2030 (Portugal): professional development for teachers is one component of InCoDe.2030. This includes MOOCs, learning laboratories and events such as training workshops.

FATIH (Turkey): teacher professional development in this programme includes technology use, field-based training and content development.

Extracurricular opportunities

digIT (Australia): these ICT summer schools target year 9-10 students from groups that are under-represented in STEM fields, and gives them the chance to attend a digital technology summer school, including an additional five months of mentoring and a follow-up residential school.

Online resources

InCoDe.2030 (Portugal): development of digital educational resources on topics such as digital citizenship are underway.

Australian Digital Technologies Challenge: this programme offered by the University of Sydney provides access for year 5-8 students to free online learning activities related to the curriculum. “Dive into Code” offers activities and challenges about coding for year 4-12 students.

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

Digital skills in the curriculum

Teaching digital skills is essential in this day and age, especially as many economic and social interactions require mastery of some digital skills. Furthermore, promoting digital literacy in schools will help young people recognise risks online (OECD, 2018[2]). The 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire queried at which level of education various “hard” and “soft” digital skills are taught (see Figure 11.2).

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Figure 11.2. Learning digital skills at different levels of education
Systems were asked if the following skills were taught, and if so at which level of education
Figure 11.2. Learning digital skills at different levels of education

Note: 22 systems responded to this part of the Policy Questionnaire.

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

Most systems explicitly teach operational, critical informational, social and creative skills in primary and secondary school. There is less of a focus at all levels of education on graphic design, programming/coding and computational thinking, and generally there is more of a focus on digital skills in general in secondary than in primary education or earlier. Approaches targeting digital skills often overemphasise the role of basic operational skills, despite the indication that combining skills such as social and creative skills, and the capacity to create digital content, can generate positive tangible outcomes (Helsper, Van Deursen and Eynon, 2015[28]). It is therefore encouraging to note the emphasis on critical information, social and creative skills in many systems, alongside basic operational skills.

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Box 11.3. Digital divides for teachers

Systems take a number of approaches to provide access to digital technologies. However, access to software or hardware does not directly translate into good pedagogical practice, and access to these tools does not necessarily ensure integration into classroom activities (Earle, 2002[19]). To be effectively implemented as a learning device in the classroom, teachers require technological knowledge and digital competence, as well as pedagogical and content knowledge (Voogt et al., 2013[20]). When teachers are able to effectively integrate technologies into their practice it can add value to traditional instruction (OECD, 2016[21]). Teachers who are confident and possess the necessary skills can employ practices such as blended learning, which can help them improve differentiation of instruction according to student needs and foster classroom interaction (Paniagua and Istance, 2018[22]).

Some pre-service teachers have limited experiences learning with ICT in their training (Lei, 2009[23]; Voogt et al., 2013[20]), and in some instances the training they receive is of poor quality (Gudmundsdottir and Hatlevik, 2018[24]). According to TALIS 2018, only 56% of teachers in OECD countries received training in the use of ICT for teaching as part of their formal education or training, and only 43% felt well or very well prepared for this when they had completed their initial teacher education (OECD, 2019[8]). As was the case in TALIS 2013, teachers still report a high level of need for professional development in ICT skills for teaching, second only to teaching students with special needs (OECD, 2019[8]; OECD, 2014[25]). It is essential for teachers to receive quality training in the use of digital tools to integrate ICTs effectively into their practice. Teachers who are confident in their ICT abilities and who recognise the added value of ICT for teaching and learning report higher levels of ICT use during lessons (European Commission, 2013[26]), and professional development has been linked to teacher confidence (Valtonen et al., 2015[27]).

Responses to the 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire highlight that in the majority of systems, teachers receive training in digital skills (i.e. their abilities to use digital technologies) and in the use of technology in teaching. However, teachers are not necessarily trained in a number of other important digital competencies such as assessing online risks to students and in educating students in digital literacy or digital citizenship. Teacher education at both the initial preparation and continuing professional development levels will have to expand to better prepare and support teachers to teach these important 21st century skills.

Teaching and assessing digital skills is imperative, as individuals with lower levels of skills will be less able to access information and make use of various online resources (Van Deursen and Helsper, 2018[5]). Furthermore, the level of these skills varies across different socio-demographic groups (Van Deursen, Helsper and Eynon, 2016[29]; Van Deursen et al., 2017[30]). It is therefore important to assess the skills different disadvantaged groups are lacking, and tailor trainings and interventions to reduce inequalities (Van Deursen and Helsper, 2018[5]).

Developing social and emotional skills to foster (online & offline) well-being

To thrive in the digital economy, digital skills alone are not enough. Children and adults alike require skills such as numeracy and literacy, as well as social and emotional skills that promote collaborative working and flexibility (OECD, 2016[32]). Many systems are incorporating social and emotional skills into (sub) national curricula. These are important for dealing with and preventing emotional well-being challenges and fostering positive child development, and can form the basis for digital citizenship and understanding “netiquette” (see Chapter 12). Furthermore, some research supports the notion that engaging in cyber aggression is related to lower rates of social competence, and higher rates of loneliness (Schoffstall and Cohen, 2011[33]).

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Table 11.3. Integrating social and emotional skills into the curriculum


Name of programme

Type of programme

Skills and content addressed


Réforme du bac (Reform of the French Baccalaureate)

Curricular and regulatory

New oral exam for which the preparation of high schoolers consists of working on their public speaking skills to build confidence and self-esteem


Aistear (Early Childhood Curriculum Framework for children from birth to 6 years)


For use in early years and primary school settings

Themes: Well-being and Identity and Belonging

Developing secure attachments, becoming emotionally strong and developing resilience to deal with challenges and difficulties


Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum


Developing self-awareness to build self-esteem and awareness of diversity for more meaningful connection in school and life


Curriculum reform and legislation regarding the School Health Service (2017)

Curricular and regulatory

Introduction of life skills and learning about mental health as a cross-curricular theme

Lay out guidelines clarifying the professional requirements regarding organisation, number of health workers/nurses and professional standards


Student Profile by the End of Compulsory Schooling (Perfil dos Alunos à Saída da Escolaridade Obrigatória, PA)


Development of Interpersonal relationships and aims to help students recognise, express and manage emotions, build relationships, and respond to personal and social needs


Health and Well-Being area (Curriculum for Excellence)


Developing self-awareness, self-worth and respect for others

Meet challenges, manage change and build relationships

Build resilience and confidence (for dealing with school-related anxiety and stress)

Developing well-being and social skills

Acknowledge diversity and learn how to challenge it


Child Welfare Act, School Health Act, Character Education Promotion Act

Curricular and regulatory

Strengthen character education as a way of addressing school-related stress

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire

Developing social and emotional skills is often a key part of effective prevention programmes for a range of emotional well-being concerns. Skills such as communication, problem solving, coping and insight building are important for building resilience in online and offline spaces. In this sense, there is great potential to include and integrate these skills across the curriculum as many systems do, as shown in Table 11.3.

Developing social and emotional skills, digital skills, and bolstering resilience in children are important to ensure online inclusion. However, other systemic issues such as poverty and inequalities as well as discrimination against children with ethnic or cultural minority backgrounds makes children more vulnerable to negative online experiences such as cyberbullying and grooming. Children with disabilities are also more likely to encounter more online risks (Livingstone and Palmer, 2012[34]). Therefore, interventions for vulnerable groups and policies tackling root causes of inequalities should supplement skills approaches in ensuring child well-being.

copy the linklink copied!Screen time guidelines and the importance of evidence in promoting well-being

With the rise in use of digital technologies both in and out of the classroom, screen time is an issue that has gained much attention as a “threat” to children’s emotional and physical well-being. The literature in this area is not extremely well-developed and tends to be inconsistent, and it is thus difficult to root guidelines in strong and robust evidence (Gottschalk, 2019[35]). While “how much is too much” is an important, although unanswered question, research on the “Goldilocks hypothesis”, for example, suggests policy makers should widen the scope of the debate by also asking “how much is too little”. Using digital technologies poses risks to children on the one hand, but on the other provides opportunities to foster important skills, and enhance well-being through promotion of protective factors such as the reinforcement of relationships.

A number of OECD countries have developed guidelines regarding screen time and children, however these are not consistently developed and implemented across countries and they come in many forms. Some countries establish screen-only guidelines, whereas in other countries screen time guidelines are incorporated into broader guidelines such as those focused on physical activity (thereby classifying screen time as sedentary behaviour or time). These can be disseminated by national ministries, non-governmental organisations or public operators under supervision of a national ministry, or, as is the case in a few systems, they are recommended by national health-related bodies. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, guidelines are set by their respective governmental Departments/Ministries of health, while in Canada and the United States guidelines are proposed by the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP guidelines, as well as the Canadian guidelines as set by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), have been influential in other OECD countries. For example, the CSEP guidelines have been used in the development of guidelines from the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and the AAP guidelines are often adhered to in lieu of establishing a separate national set of guidelines.

Screen time guidelines/policies can generally be grouped according to the following:

  • general, age-based limits – not specific about type of screen used, time limits are based on age

  • age and activity focused limits – stipulations for age and type of activity

  • general recommendations – the same recommendation for all children, without age or activity stipulations.

Generally, limitation-focused guidelines suggest under two hours of sedentary screen time for school-aged children and have been questioned by researchers in developmental and clinical fields (Linebarger and Vaala, 2010[36]; Ferguson and Donnellan, 2014[37]). Arguably, two hours is an arbitrary limit, as there is little research supporting this strict cut-off and moderate use of digital devices even in excess of two hours can have positive implications for both emotional and academic development (Przybylski and Weinstein, 2017[38]; OECD, 2017[6]). Limitation-focused guidelines tend to overlook the convergence between online and offline play and social spaces that children and adolescents are establishing in the 21st century (Marsh, 2014[39]). Sweeping bans or limits on screen time or technology use may not adequately take into account the nuances regarding how children and adolescents engage with devices, and overemphasise the potential for the “displacement effect”, which is contentious in the scientific community (see Chapter 8).

Age-based guidelines can be difficult to implement for families with more than one child, especially those that suggest little to no screen time for younger children. If a young child is engaging in their daily 30-minute or hour-long allotment of screen time, it might be difficult to prevent a younger sibling, say a baby or toddler, from seeing the screen. Especially when guidelines suggest that screens are only to be used in communal areas, restrictive guidelines of this nature could be overlooking the realities of daily lives in mixed-age families.

What children are using digital technologies for and why is probably a more important factor than how much they engage with them. Some evidence suggests that watching age-appropriate, high quality programming may promote certain cognitive benefits, while “co-viewing” (i.e. engaging in screen time with a parent or caregiver) can enhance infant attention and their propensity to learn from on-screen content (Gottschalk, 2019[35]). This can be referred to as “scaffolding” and suggests caregivers pose questions, and give descriptions and labels during viewing (Barr et al., 2008[45]).

Despite the proliferation of research on child outcomes resulting from technology use, policy makers need more robust evidence in order to make clear and effective guidelines for technology use in children. Some of the main challenges in the available research, as outlined in the above sections, include a lack of quality research and coherence, issues with study design, trouble ascertaining correlation versus causation and there is a large focus of the negative effects of technology. This is unbalanced with the potential positive effects.

When formulating guidelines, there are some insights from high quality research that can be taken into account. For example, it has been suggested that moderate use of screens, even in excess of many national recommendations or those of the AAP, is not associated with problematic outcomes such as delinquency, risky behaviours, reduced grades or mental health problems (Ferguson, 2017[46]). Moderate use might even be advantageous for children, according to the notion of the “Goldilocks Hypothesis”. The risks to mental well-being of adolescents may be minor, although the effects vary based on factors such as type of media used and when it is used (i.e. during the week or weekend) (Przybylski and Weinstein, 2017[38]). Negative outcomes have been associated with media consumption in excess of 6 hours per day (Ferguson, 2017[46]), however the association with mental well-being is small (Przybylski and Weinstein, 2017[38]).

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Table 11.4. Screen time guidelines



Early childhood

School-age - adolescence

Other recommendations

General age-based limits

Australian Government Department of Health

None (under 12 months); <1 hour (12-24 months)

<1 hour

<2 hours (entertainment)

Canada, Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology &

Canadian Paediatric Society


<1 hour

<2 hours (CSEP only)

Limited sitting for extended periods (CSEP); Adults model healthy screen use (CPS)

German Federal Ministry of Health


30 minutes

1 hour (primary school) 2 hours (adolescents)

Avoid as much as possible; avoid screen time completely for children under 2 including background television

Latvia, Center Dardedze

None before age 2

Not to use every day, and only for between 15-20 minutes at a time, not more than 30 minutes per day

Based on AAP guidelines; Emphasis on safe and age-appropriate content, parental oversight, and avoid using devices as reward/punishment

New Zealand Ministry of Health


<1 hour

<2 hours (recreational)

Adapted from CSEP guidelines

United States, American Academy of Pediatrics

None, except video chatting (under 18 months); Only high quality programming (18-24 months)

1 hour of high quality programming, co-view

Consistent limits on time and type

Turn off screens when not in use; ensure screen time does not displace other behaviours essential for health

Age and activity focused limits

Belgium (French Speaking Community), Yapaka programme

Under 3: No television, and avoid all screens

Between 3-6: avoid screens in the bedroom, avoid access to gaming consoles

Between 6-9: no Internet alone, set clear rules on screen time, avoid screens in the bedroom.

Between 9-12: no social networking

From age 12: Child can surf the Internet alone, agrees to online schedule

At all ages, set limits around the type of programmes and screen time, encourage creativity

France*, Le centre pour l’éducation aux médias et l’information

Under 3 : no television, tablets with tactile features are not a priority but can be used as a complement to traditional games, always with a parent

Between 3-5: < 90 minutes per day.

Before 6: multi-player video games should be used rather than single-player and can be played occasionally, avoid a personal gaming console; establish clear rules on screen time

From 6: < 2 hours per day

Between 6-9: clear rules on screen time established

From 8: explain rights such as the right to privacy

Between 9-12: continue establishing clear rules on screen time; explain particularities of Internet

From 12: Children can surf the Internet alone

No screens in the morning; no screens during meal time; no screens in the evening before bed; no screens in a child’s bedroom; one hour of screen time should be followed by one hour of non-screen activities

Switzerland, Jeunes et Medias

Under 3: no television

Between 3-5, 30 minutes of television with parents, DVDs are more suitable for under 4s than television.

Before 6: no personal gaming

Between 6-9: no Internet

Between 9-12: no social networks

Avoid screen time before bedtime; parents should test apps before children use them; involve children in screen time negotiations; do not use electronic games as rewards/punishment

General guidelines


< 2 hours of screen time per day; do not spend more than 2 hours in a row sitting down; engage in at least two hours per day of strong physical exercise


Bee Balanced Online & Offline: for every hour online, spend one hour offline; screens and devices should be turned off at night; parents and children should negotiate screen time, not including screen use for academic activities or homework; co-viewing is recommended for young children

South Korea

Shutdown of online gaming systems for children under 16 between 12 and 6am

United Kingdom, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Families negotiate screen time; to determine if screen time is problematic, can pose four questions:

Is screen time controlled?

Does it interfere with what your family wants to do?

Does it interfere with sleep?

Is snacking during screen time controlled?

If there are no problematic responses, screen time probably does not pose a problem in the family; otherwise the guidelines provide tips to reduce screen time

Source: 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire and Gottschalk (2019[35])

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Box 11.4. Korea’s “shutdown law” and paediatric sleep

Screens may not be responsible for “destroying a generation”, but are they affecting sleep? A systematic review of the literature found an adverse relationship between sleep outcomes and screen time (Hale and Guan, 2015[40]) and a recent study suggested that each hour devoted to digital screen time was associated with only a 3-8 minute reduction in nightly sleep and lower sleep consistency (Przybylski, 2019[41]). Methodological limitations (i.e. relying on self-report for both sleep hours and screen time hours, which tend to be unreliable and prone to over and under-reporting especially for screen time (Scharkow, 2016[42])) impede researchers from determining causation, and the evidence tends to be inconsistent. Despite these limitations and results suggesting relatively small effects of screens on sleep, the relationship between sleep and digital technology use has garnered much attention from parents, teachers and policy makers.

In November 2011, in an attempt to curb what was deemed excessive gaming and enhance sleep outcomes, the Korean government legalised the blocking of online games for children under the age of 16 between midnight and 6am. The results of this effort were mixed: One study examining the effects of the ban suggested an increase in sleep duration of only 1.5 minutes; however, the increase was only significant for female sleep duration (increase of 2.7 minutes) and was not significant for the males in the sample (Lee, Kim and Hong, 2017[43]). Another study found an immediate reduction in daily minutes of Internet use, however there were no long-term improvements as measured four years after implementation. The researchers found no effects on sleeping hours (Choi et al., 2018[44]). These results are consistent with the notion that Internet use likely does not displace other activities (see more about the “displacement hypothesis” in Chapter 8), and that comprehensive approaches to managing screen time and paediatric sleep might be better suited than administering simple bans.

There are some new challenges faced by researchers and policy makers as technology evolves and children’s habits change. For example, the notion of “screen-stacking” or media multitasking (i.e. using more than one technological device at the same time) is a relatively new and understudied phenomenon that may have implications for children’s cognition, behaviour, neural structure and academic outcomes (Uncapher et al., 2017[47]).

Some results that have been quite consistent across the research include:

  • Blue light from screens may affect melatonin production and sleep – alongside good sleep hygiene, limiting blue light exposure right before bedtime can help mitigate this.

  • Moderate Internet use can help children build rapport with their peers, and does not appear to displace engaging in physical activity or other health-promoting behaviours.

  • Not all media is created equal – passive versus active engagement, violent versus entertainment versus educational content, and age-appropriateness can impact child outcomes.

  • Co-viewing provides opportunities for “scaffolding”, and can help children understand content; quality time with parents/caregivers might be more important than the type of activity engaged in together (i.e. screen versus non-screen).

The recently published guidelines by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the United Kingdom are a good example of using the evidence to generate guidelines. The summary of the research concludes that the evidence of harm tends to be overstated, and the negative effects screens may have on children are contested (RCPCH, 2019[48]). Due to the weak evidence, the guidelines suggest negotiating screen time within the family based on the needs of individual children, and that families should answer four questions (presented in Table 11.4); if families are satisfied with their answers, they are likely to be doing well in terms of screen use in the family. The guide ends with recommendations regarding how families can reduce screen time, if they feel the need to do so. This includes protecting sleep displacement via screen use, prioritising face-to-face interaction and being cognisant of parental media use, as children tend to learn by example (RCPCH, 2019[48]).

copy the linklink copied!In sum

Governments and education ministries can, and do, play an important role in fostering digital literacy and well-being in children. There are many good examples of incorporating digital literacy and well-being into national curricula, and initiatives to upskill teachers, to disseminate information to parents and families, and to provide opportunities to children inside and out of the classroom to foster their digital skills and social and emotional competences. The overlap between different digital skills and social and emotional skills means that comprehensive well-being and digital frameworks can feature both skill sets, to ensure children are safe and happy both on and offline.

Developing effective policies becomes more difficult in the absence of good quality data, as is the case with screen time. Taking a top-down approach, as is done with promoting national guidelines regarding screen time, can be an effective approach if it is based on robust evidence. However, due to the inconsistencies in the literature and misinformation in the media, policy makers can struggle with this issue. Approaching child well-being and screen time in a holistic sense therefore, as is seen in the example of the United Kingdom’s 2019 screen time guidelines, can be an effective way for governments to move forward, without taking overly restrictive or ineffective approaches.

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“Preferred bidder” is a procurement term, referring to the bidder that has been selected following the evaluation process. It represents the company to which the contract is intended to be awarded, following the finalisation of financial and legal documents.


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Chapter 11. Fostering digital literacy and well-being