Whose digital future? Exploring diversity and equality in young people’s technology practice and aspirations across their end of school transition

Year: 2019

Author: Beckman, Karley, Apps, Tiffani, Cronin, Lyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In an increasingly digital society young people face new challenges and demands of their technology practice as they complete secondary education and transition into new learning and work contexts. Yet, research shows that the digital literacy of young people is generally lower than might be expected and more diverse, suggesting that many young people leave school without the necessary digital skills and knowledge to participate in a ‘digital future’. Current initiatives in education focus on digital skills for economic participation including a focus on STEM, coding and the Digital Technologies curriculum. Within this context, we question the effectiveness of such narrowly focused initiatives to meet the needs of all students. We argue that framing all futures as universally digital and implementing initiatives to prepare for such a future only serves to exacerbate low levels of digital literacy and further entrench digital inequalities.

The aim of this study was to explore the technology practice of young people as they transition from secondary school to further study, work or other everyday life contexts. This is important to investigate because this transition is complex, characterised by uncertainty and places increased demands on young people in terms of their technology practice and digital literacy. We employ a qualitative research design to allow for in-depth insights into the technology practices of young people across their end of school transition. Questionnaire and interview data was collected at two points in time: (1) during the final year of formal schooling paying attention to aspirations and factors that shape technology practice across school and everyday life contexts; and (2) six months post completion of secondary school. The findings demonstrate a diversity in the technology practices of the young people, particularly in the way they perceived the role of technology in their lives and futures. Furthermore, the findings suggest patterns in the technology practice and aspirations of these young people based on family background, gender and social contexts. These insights will inform the preparation of a longitudinal study that explores children and young people’s technology practices across key life stages and transitions, from early childhood education to primary schooling, primary to secondary schooling and into post-school contexts. This understanding of young peoples’ digital lives is important for educators in the creation of teaching and learning programs that acknowledge student diversity to develop and support all students’ digital literacy and prepare them for their futures.