Only 25% of those surveyed say that they know how to repair and/or maintain devices. (Photo: Pexels / Pixabay)
A study led by researchers from the UOC examines various digital skills among young people and their critical ability from a gender perspective
71% of girls say that they manage the various profiles of their digital identity well, compared to 66% of boys
Only 25% of those surveyed say that they know how to repair and/or maintain devices
The extremely rapid adoption of the digital environment in all aspects of life, taking in leisure, education and work, means that we have learned how to use it very quickly. As a result, there is a need to ascertain the skills of society and levels of media and digital literacy, especially among groups in education such as young people.
A recent study carried out by researchers from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and published in an open journal examined the relationship between the level of digital literacy and the perspective of a possible gender gap among young people in Spain in the new media context. "Thanks to this study, we can explore the possible tensions and needs that may arise in the design of future media and digital education programmes from a critical feminist perspective", said Pedro Fernández de Castro, a researcher on the doctoral programme in Humanities and Communication at the UOC, and one of the main authors of this project.
In this study, the authors surveyed more than 600 young people of both genders aged between 16 and 18 years old about their skills and critical knowledge of the digital environment. The survey included various abilities, such as technical competencies (related to handling devices and the minimum skills needed to access the digital environment) and informational competencies (related to evaluating the content they consume and to online sociability). It took into account various aspects that enable critical awareness of the digital environment, including its economic impact and the interviewees' knowledge of legal issues, politics, environmental issues, the labour market, among other factors.
Girls have more social skills
The conclusions were classified into two groups based on these data. The first group contained those aspects referring to technical and informational skills and critical knowledge. Meanwhile, the second group included aspects related to gender equality and the gender gap in terms of self-perception among young people. "In general terms, both boys and girls rate themselves at a similar level in the areas related to skills. What's more, looking at it in detail, in informational competencies such as social skills the results for girls are slightly better", Fernández de Castro pointed out. However, the results for critical knowledge show that boys rate themselves considerably higher than girls.
For example, 71% of girls say that they manage the various profiles of their digital identity well, compared to 66% of boys, and only 25% of those surveyed say that they know how to repair and/or maintain devices, with significant differences by gender - 32.6% of boys and 18% of girls. Girls also think they have more informational and social skills in the digital environment than boys, while boys see themselves as having more critical knowledge than girls.
"These data enable us to reflect on how technology, as a concept and social construct, is closely linked to masculinity, both historically and culturally, and how it plays a key role in power inequalities between genders and therefore the reproduction of patriarchal logic", emphasized Fernández de Castro.
Improve training and promote equality
The authors also point out that a very significant proportion of young people consider themselves digital natives - a definition that does not mean they have digital skills. Moreover, more than 30% suffer from various technical and informational dysfunctions in their skills, in aspects including setting up digital services and tools to increase privacy and anonymity online, and in dealing with content management on multimedia platforms.
"In today's digital ecosystem, unless educators and young people work together, the only skills people acquire will be those that are essential for consumption and production on digital platforms. There's therefore a need to create educational spaces to support them in order to encourage this criticism of the digital environment and to debunk the idea that they are digital natives and that they'll learn what they need on their own", warned the UOC researcher.
This digital education must therefore include a critical perspective so that it is not only focused on training employees who meet the needs of the labour market, but also on educating active, participatory citizens with critical skills.
Furthermore, in order to increase equality in young people's skills, the experts point out that some aspects of feminist theories in the sphere of technology must be included. "It's important that one of the cornerstones of digital education is the feminist theories that have studied the relationship between gender and technology, including the various perspectives and intersectional approaches that contribute to developing a critical awareness of the digital sphere", said the expert.
This gender perspective will enable educational proposals and strategies for digital skills to be designed and developed. "This type of programme should be aimed at promoting active and critical digital citizens. Of course, it shouldn't be a matter of simply superimposing the two fields as if they were layers - they must be integrated and create a range of properly designed materials", concluded Fernández de Castro.
This work was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, and is part of the R&D project on Digital Social Education: youth, active citizenship and inclusion.
This research by the UOC supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4, Quality Education; 5, Gender Equality; and 10, Reduced Inequalities.
Estanyol, E., Montaña, M., Fernández-de-Castro, P., Aranda, D. and Mohammadi, L. (2023). Digital competence among young people in Spain: A gender divide analysis. [Competencias digitales de la juventud en España: Un análisis de la brecha de género]. Comunicar, 74. https://doi.org/10.3916/C74-2023-09
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
The UOC's research is conducted by over 500 researchers and 51 research groups distributed between the university's seven faculties, the E-learning Research programme, and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
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Pedro Fernández de Castro
Researcher on the doctoral programme in Humanities and Communication at the UOC
Elisenda Estanyol Casals
Expert in: Corporate communication, institutional communication, public relations, protocol, events management, digital communications, social media, creativity and gamification.
Knowledge area: Communication, public relations, advertising and protocol.
Mireia Montaña Blasco
Expert in: Traditional and digital advertising; media; advertising media planning; the Internet and social networks; strategy; segmentation by target audience; consumer behaviour; young adults as advertising targets.
Knowledge area: Traditional and digital communication, advertising and media.
Expert from the UOC's research group GAME