Archived — Digital Literacy in Canada: From Inclusion to Transformation

Archived Information

Archived information is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Submissions (continued)

Annex A: Contextual Factors, Challenges and Questions Addressed in the Submission

The consultation paper covers five themes:

  • Capacity to innovate using digital technologies
  • Building a world class digital infrastructure
  • Growing the information and communications technology industry
  • Digital media: creating Canada's digital content advantage
  • Building digital skills for tomorrow

The paper does not use the phrase "digital literacy", although its definition of "digital skills" is adapted from an Educational Training Service definition for digital literacy (p. 30). However, under each of these themes it identifies contextual factors, presents challenges and poses questions that intersect with the issues discussed in the Media Awareness Network paper. These contextual factors, challenges, and questions include the following:

Capacity to innovate

  • Challenge: overcoming underinvestment in ICTs
    • Technology adoption is a complex process involving changes to business processes, new digital skills, and technology management expertise, as well as investment in technology (p. 12).
    • There is a lack of business and managerial skills in Canada. Developing, educating, training, and attracting professionals with both business and IT skills is important (p. 13).
    • Challenge: Protecting the Online Marketplace
    • There is a need for increased cyber security awareness (p. 15).

Building infrastructure

  • Questions: The preamble states that all Canadians should have access to high speed networks (p. 19).

Growing the ICT industry

  • Challenge: Talent (p. 22)
    • Canadian companies must be able to attract and retain highly qualified professionals.
    • The talent base is shrinking as a result of declining post-secondary enrolment and declining immigration.
    • It is important for governments and the private sector to identify ways to attract more students to university ICT programs, attract more foreign ICT professionals, and retain talent in Canada.
  • Question:
    • What efforts are needed to address the talent needs in the coming years? (p. 23).

Digital media

  • Context (p. 25)
    • The continuing growth of Canada's arts and culture sector is not possible without Canadians who are using digital media more and in new ways at home, school, work or play.
    • New technologies are putting creative control in the hands of consumers and creators.
  • Challenge: Talent and sector development (p. 27)
    • With the constant evolution of technologies and an emerging industry comprised of SMEs, there is a need to develop skills, share expertise and best practices.
    • The federal government will review which areas of activity of digital media businesses most need to bolster talent by better attracting and retaining international students and permanent immigrants.
  • Challenge: Role of national institutions (p. 27)
    • National cultural institutions like the CBC and the NFB can be a hotbed for research and development and a training ground for the next generation of creators.
  • Question:
    • How can we ensure that all Canadians, including those with disabilities (learning, visual, auditory) will benefit from and participate in the Canadian digital economy? (p. 29).

Digital skills

  • Context (p. 30)
    • Creating the right conditions for a world-class digital economy will require digital skills for all Canadians.
    • There are concerns that a digital skills divide is emerging — this is of particular concern because effective participation in the labour market is increasingly linked to digital competence.
  • General challenges (p. 30)
    • For Canada to become a leader in the digital economy, digital skills development must be fostered in all Canadians.
    • A significant challenge in determining if Canadians have the skills required for the digital economy is a lack of a precise understanding of what digital skills are and how Canada is faring compared to its competitors.
  • Challenge: Addressing skills shortages in the ICT sector (p. 30)
    • Solving skills shortages will require a range of integrated, targeted efforts coordinated across government, industry, and education partners.
    • A digital strategy needs to seek opportunities to increase participation of under-represented groups, such as women and aboriginals, particularly by encouraging more post-secondary enrolment in ICT-related programs.
    • Permanent immigration will be key to the health of the ICT sector labour force.
    • Other ideas: post-secondary programs that combine ICT and other fields, and strengthening opportunities for continuing professional development in the ICT sector.
  • Challenge: Improving digital skills in workplaces across the economy (p. 31)
    • Distinct challenges are faced by SME's, large employers and institutions, and sectors undergoing economic restructuring.
  • Challenge: Narrowing the digital skills divide (p. 32)
    • It is essential that all Canadians have the skills to be able to access, use, and interpret a growing and increasingly complex range of digital information.
    • Digital experience in Canada varies with income, education, and age — and essential skills are increasingly connected with digital abilities.
    • Technology advances, in particular social networking, have the ability to enhance learning through the use of new media.
  • Questions: (p. 33)
    • What do you see as the most critical challenges in skills development for a digital economy?
    • What is the best way to address these challenges?
    • What can we do to ensure that labour market entrants have digital skills?
    • What is the best way to ensure the current workforce gets the continuous up-skilling required to remain competitive in the digital economy?
    • How will the digital economy impact the learning system in Canada? How we teach? How we learn?
    • What strategies could be employed to address the digital divide?
    • Should we set targets for our made-in-Canada digital strategy? If so, what should those targets be?
    • What should be the timelines to reach these targets?

Other issues

In addition to identifying these contextual factors, challenges and questions, the consultation paper makes two other points that are germane to the Media Awareness Network paper:

  • Training and learning is a complex area of shared federal and provincial/territorial jurisdiction (p. 33).
  • Developing and implementing a digital economy strategy will require the active engagement of all stakeholders, including ICT producers, consumers, researchers, teachers and users. It will also require cooperation between governments.

Annex B: Digital Literacy Initiatives in Other Countries

Over the past few years, a strategic focus on digital literacy policy has emerged in various international jurisdictions, notably in Europe and Australia, and most recently, in the United States.

The European Union Expert Group has stated that digital literacy is an essential life skill and that "the inability to access or use information communication technologies has effectively become a barrier to social integration and personal development." Footnote 57

The March 2010 report by the US Federal Communications Commission, National Broadband Plan Connecting America, calls for a major upgrade of US broadband infrastructure and a push to increase broadband usage. The report calls for significant digital literacy initiatives and identifying digital literacy as a necessary life skill on par with reading and writing.Footnote 58 In addition, it recommends the establishment of a federally funded national Digital Literacy Program, including the creation of a Digital Literacy Corps that will teach digital skills across the United States, the creation of an online digital literacy portal, and a commitment to building the capacity of local institutions that act as partners in building digital literacy.Footnote 59

Britain and Australia, both of which have already embarked upon extensive national digital literacy initiatives, are two noteworthy benchmarks for Canada. Canada is comparable to the UK in Internet usage at 80 per centFootnote 60 of the population, and to Australia in its physical and demographic makeup with large rural and indigenous populations. Both these countries are investing heavily in digital literacy programs supported by strong strategic policy support.

The landmark Digital Britain report catalyzed and galvanized UK policymakers to support a cohesive national digital strategy of which digital literacy is a primary focus. Digital Britain's goals were, from the outset, patently clear: "we will need to ensure a population that is confident and empowered to access, use and create digital media."Footnote 61 The working group tasked with implementing the policy identified a strategy where government acts as both the unifying and funding source for digital literacy programs in conjunction with in-kind contributions from private and public media organizations.

The working group clearly articulates the economic benefits of digital literacy: "digital engagement will drive demand for digital content, services, and devices and in turn drive the digital economy."Footnote 62

Australia has also invested significantly in the necessary infrastructure and resources to foster a digitally literate population. Most notable is the $2 billion commitment over the next five years to what's being called the Digital Education Revolution. Australia's Future Directions report notes, "one marker of success in maximizing our participation in the digital economy will come when distinctions are no longer made between digital and non-digital skills. Or when education and training programs seamlessly integrate instruction about how to engage with technology as part of the regular course of discussion."Footnote 63

It is beyond the scope of this paper to analyze in depth the various global digital literacy initiatives, but it is clear that a number of countries have embraced digital literacy as a core component of public policy in order to drive economic growth and competitiveness — as well as social well being for their citizenry.


  1. 57 DG Information Society and Media Group. (2008), p. 4. (Back to reference 57)
  2. 58 FCC National Broadband Plan, Connecting America. (March 2009), Section 9.3. (Back to reference 58)
  3. 59 Ibid. (Back to reference 59)
  4. 60 Statistics Canada Internet Use Study (May 2010). (Back to reference 60)
  5. 61 Digital Britain Final Report. (June 2009), p. 66. (Back to reference 61)
  6. 62 Report of the Digital Britain Media Literacy Working Group. (March 2009), Section 2.1. (Back to reference 62)
  7. 63 Australia's Digital Economy: Future Directions. (2009), footnote 143. (Back to reference 63)