Establishing a Research Agenda for the Digital Literacy Practices of Young Children


This paper outlines the context and research questions behind a Europe-wide project investigating young children, digital technologies and changing literacies. The claims made for the ‘digital generation’ keep on being recalibrated. First of all, the digital generation grew up with games consoles, then it was the Internet and subsequently the smart phone. Whilst each new phase of technological innovation might seem to set a new standard in what it means to be ‘born digital, and no doubt this will continue to change with the ‘Internet of things’, we are now entering a period where the parents of children born today might themselves very much come from a generation that itself had been labelled, digital. There are important gaps and inconsistencies, structural inequalities and important divergences in any sense of wholesale change across the countries of Europe. Whilst it is true that a child born in any affluent city in Europe in 2015 may come from a family immersed in digital technology, constantly connected to the Internet with every member of the household possessing a smart phone, tablet, with PCs, smart televisions in the home and schools awash with smart boards, 100% Wi-Fi coverage and so forth, we also know they will have classmates with very different experiences of the digital. Less affluent families may well only have access to the Internet via a smart phone, of which there may be only one in the household and reliant on precarious pay-as-you-go tariffs. For that child, school may be the portal to the digital century. Nevertheless, we know that families with young children are more likely than families without children to be Internet enabled, that children over the age of eight are more than likely to have their own smart phone, and that the houses where they live will have several ways of accessing the online world with many children using more than one device, be they tablets, consoles or computers. Whilst categorically asserting that this, now, is the digital generation will therefore always require important caveats and disclaimers, we can say that everyday use of digital technologies is the norm. Young children, the subject of our study are, to a hitherto unknown degree, growing up immersed in and surrounded by digital devices and forms of communication right across Europe. What does this mean for everyday life, for learning, for families and for the future?


Julian Sefton-Green, Jackie Marsh, Ola Erstad and Rosie Flewitt


© 2015