When we started planning the Digital Literacy + Coding pilot in late 2016, the landscape of digital literacy education was vastly different. Policymakers across Canada had begun to bring coding into conversations about skills and education, but digital literacy hadn’t yet emerged as a national focus. In fact, at the time, there wasn’t a well understood definition of what digital literacy encompassed.
A lot has changed since then. Ladies Learning Code re-emerged as Canada Learning Code to expand its national mandate to strengthen computer science programs and education. The federal government solidified its commitment to supporting digital education through CanCode, a two-year program that provided $50 million in funding to support opportunities for K–12 youth to learn digital skills (in 2019, the program was extended for another two years with an additional investment of $60 million). Provinces such as British Columbia and New Brunswick launched new computer science curricula. The City of Toronto launched an annual Digital Literacy Week (with our help!), which will be held for the third time this year. Programs across the country have been held with organizations such as Kids Code Jeunesse, Canada Learning Code, Actua, and Lighthouse Labs to provide training to K–12 teachers to incorporate digital literacy and coding subjects. Actua released an AI curriculum for high-school students, as well as the results of a survey assessing the confidence and attitudes of parents and youth towards coding. Throughout the course of this pandemic, these organizations have switched gears to offer online resources and experiences to support at-home learning. And so much more. This is a tremendous amount of progression in a short period of time, driving Canada ahead in its journey toward digital literacy for all.
Our digital literacy journey started with research on the growing impacts of labour automation technologies, which drew links between labour market resiliency and digital literacy skills. It also highlighted underrepresentation of a number of groups in the tech sector. As we embarked on this work, it became clear that even beyond the influences of automation, there is a need for us to understand what a universally inclusive model for delivering digital literacy education could look like—that barriers to accessing technology and digital literacy overlap with existing patterns of marginalization. We developed a model that was specifically designed to engage youth who did not have access to programming, and perhaps more importantly, youth who were not particularly interested in seeking out formal programs for any number of reasons. This is the challenge we set out to understand with the launch of the pilot, with the ultimate goal of helping inform future policy decisions.
Over two years, our pilot engaged key digital literacy stakeholders to help co-design the model, tested the model, pivoted to remain relevant, enlisted a powerhouse team of evaluators, and ultimately engaged almost 2,500 youth at six sites in five communities across Ontario. We shared our learnings regularly through quarterly blogs, with the goal of being open and transparent about what we were seeing. Concurrently, we continued our research to better understand the gaps and opportunities presented by a fragmented digital literacy education landscape.