Plugging In: Empowering communities to ensure digital literacy access for youth

Sharing lessons from our pilot program, which tested a model for delivering accessible digital literacy and coding programs in libraries and community spaces across Ontario
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Annalise Huynh
Alumni, Policy Analyst + Designer
Nisa Malli
BII+E Alumni

About this report

The Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot was designed in partnership with experts in digital literacy and program delivery and took place over almost two years (February 2018–October 2019) in five communities across Ontario. It aimed to catalyze youth digital literacy training in existing community spaces in Belleville, Hamilton, Sudbury, London, and Toronto. The pilot engaged nearly 2,500 participants, of which approximately 30% identified as girls. There were 48 cohorts and 113 events (including March break camps, summer camps, and pop-ups). It was designed and delivered alongside a steering committee of experts in digital literacy education programming, industry, community organizations, and libraries, including a program curriculum that has been made open source and available for anyone to use and remix. 

This report captures the thinking behind the pilot and makes a case for supporting accessible, informal, and community-based after-school learning opportunities to reach youth who would otherwise not be able to attend digital literacy education programs. The pilot and this report are a part of our Digital Literacy Research Series.

Read this report to help you:
  • Consider how local community organizations and libraries can be supported to engage underserved youth in up-to-date digital literacy education programs.
  • Access an open-source digital literacy and coding curriculum for after-school programs for youth.
  • Review our recommendations for how governments across Canada could target support to help community organizations and libraries create ongoing impact, alongside the expertise of digital literacy program delivery organizations.

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Key findings from the report:

  • Bringing the pilot into informal after-school spaces helped us lower barriers to participation and bring together a diverse group of youth across each community. 
  • With limited financial investment, it is possible to deliver digital literacy and coding education in thousands of community spaces across the country. Targeted support is required to turn community spaces into digital literacy hubs by enabling access to devices, adequate wifi, tech support, physical safety, comfortable spaces, open-source learning materials, and guidance on adapting curriculum to learner levels. 
  • While there was variation of who participated across sites, there were consistent challenges around recruiting girls and participants from other underserved groups. Where needed, government support should also support recruitment efforts to ensure that these underserved youth are adequately reached and engaged.
  • Differing community contexts and populations mean varied and sometimes complex barriers to delivering high-quality programming. These can include spaces with outdated infrastructure, difficult commutes to program locations, and scarcity of local digital literacy teaching expertise. 
  • Creating equitable access to digital literacy and coding education that cuts through barriers and meets the needs of all youth in Canada will require a concerted and collaborative effort, along with funding support. Fully integrated digital literacy education for youth across the country must include closely networked participation from governments, community organizations and libraries, K–12 schools, and program delivery organizations.

Steering Committee

The Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot was co-created by a range of partners we convened as a Steering Committee. Steering Committee organizations include Actua, Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, the Information and Communications Technology Council, Canada Learning Code, Ontario Ministry of Education, RBC Capital Markets, Ryerson University, Shopify, Toronto Public Library, YMCA, and United Way Greater Toronto. These partners continued to oversee and provide guidance throughout the pilot.

Steering Committee Members:
  • Amber Knabl (Canada Learning Code)
  • Sarah Naqvi (Shopify)
  • Ab Velasco (Toronto Public Library)
  • Moira MacDougall (YMCA)
  • Maureen Ford (ICTC)
  • Tracy Ross (Actua)
  • Denise Silverstone (Boys and Girls Club Canada)
  • Iris Mushitsi (United Way Toronto and York Region)
  • Greg McLeod (Ontario Ministry of Education)


This pilot and much of the Brookfield Institute’s accompanying digital literacy research were supported by generous funds provided by the Fukakusa-Belbeck family and a matching contribution from the Government of Ontario.

Deep Dive

3 Results


Sep 24, 2020

What we learned from two years spent planning and running a digital literacy and coding pilot for youth in community spaces across Ontario
Lessons from the Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot

Sep 24, 2020

Sharing the open-source digitally lit(erate) curriculum focused on building youth digital literacy and technical competencies
Welcome to the Digitally Lit(erate) Curriculum

Apr 10, 2017

Digital literacy is going to be a central part of preparing for the future of work
Illustration of anthropomorphized computer saying
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