Digital Literacy: what does it mean and why is it important?

By Racquel Martin, Megan Richards and Simon White.

The new national curriculum defines digital literacy as follows: “Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.” (Department for Education, 2013, p178)

This definition focuses heavily on being able to use digital technologies in order to communicate. Though this is indeed an invaluable skill, we propose that there are many other areas of digital literacy that should be considered within ICT. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘literacy’ as simply “the ability to read and write”, but when used alongside other contexts refers to “competence or knowledge in a specified area” (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.). Buckingham (2010) refers to children using technologies as cultural forms, not as technical tools. So then the term ‘competence’ may refer not only to technical usage, but also on an understanding of the digital world and the impact it has on modern culture.

When considering the implications of digital literacy in the context of Primary School education we might surmise that additional areas should be included as detailed below.

Collective and collaborative working

Schools can use ICT to work collaboratively through use of blogs, by developing simple computer programs (via Scratch) or through the use of interactive whiteboards. The latter of these is something that may be overlooked, much in the way Buckingham (2010) describes. Interactive whiteboards have become so commonplace within classrooms that they are not included within discrete ICT teaching, though they are still a technology in themselves that both teachers and pupils can be literate in using.

An example of collaborative working within a Primary School context can be seen in this video from Next Generation Learning (2009):

Technology can be used not only for collaboration between pupils within a school setting (working on a project via digital tools) but also between schools (i.e. blogs, sharing lessons via Skype) and between schools and parents (i.e. Parent Portals such as Moodle).

Preparation for later life

The ability to be digitally literate for all pupils is important in a technologically diverse society. As in most work environments computers are prevalent across many aspects of everyday life. As a result, children need to be able to continuously develop their digital knowledge and capabilities, not only in their work life but also for their life at home. For instance, this might include communication (using email, Skype etc) or household activities such as internet banking and online shopping. The ability to comfortably undertake such tasks and navigate through a vast array of different and often competing technologies, is becoming a critical life skill.

Inclusiveness for all students

Whilst school provides the opportunity for pupils to have access to devices such as computers and tablets, where they might not have such access within the home, it also provides them the opportunity to use such devices within a formal learning setting. In other words, to have the opportunity to develop a basic understanding and knowledge as to how such devices work but also to receive guidance in terms of appropriate use of such devices (see previous blog post on Safeguarding & Wellbeing).

There are also opportunities and benefits for EAL and SEND pupils in the use of digital technology within the school setting. For example, specific online educational programmes such as Nessy Learning ( or online resources for EAL pupils from organisations such as NALDIC (the national subject association for English as an additional language (EAL)). The following clip from NALDIC (2009) provides a useful insight into the sort of help that is available and how to effectively support learning within this particular National Priority area:

Critical learners – what is good information?

When reading books in school, pupils learn the difference between fiction and non-fiction, and are guided towards having a good understanding of what makes a reliable source of information for a particular purpose. This should be the same in digital education. This relates heavily to the previous blog post on Safeguarding and Wellbeing when concerning e-safety, but also to a more general awareness of where different information comes from. For example, though in a secondary educational context, BBC Bitesize (n.d.) provides questions concerning secondary information and how some online sources (as well as offline media) can potentially be biased.

Gateford Primary School in Nottingham (n.d.) have included this in their ICT curriculum. At the end of key stage 2, they expect pupils to be able to consider the reliability of information they have found online and think carefully about the audience that information is for, as well as the more technical abilities in ICT.

When considering ‘digital literacy’, we would like to include competence in using and accessing digital media, understanding it within a modern culture, and also in being aware of where information comes from.


BBC Bitesize. (n.d.) Using Information Sources. [online], BBC. Available: <> [Accessed 26 November 2013].

Buckingham, D. (2010). Defining digital literacy. In Medienbildung in neuen Kulturräumen (pp. 59-71). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. 

Department for Education. (2013) The national curriculum in England: Key stages 1 and 2 framework document. [online], Crown. Available: <; [Accessed 26 November 2013].

Gateford Park Primary School. (n.d.) Curriculum: Information and Communication Technology. [online], Nottingham. Available: <> [Accessed 26 November 2013].

Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.) Definitions of Literacy in English. [online], Oxford University Press. Available: <> [Accessed 26 November 2013].

NALDIC. (2009) NALDIC ICT & EAL 5 – How ICT supports first language use. [online], Youtube. Available: <> [Accessed 25 November 2013].

Next Generation Learning. (2009) ICT Excellence Awards 2009: Robin Hood Primary School. [online], Youtube. Available: <> [Accessed 25 November 2013].


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