My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for this debate. This area is not a natural strength of mine, but I have always taken the view that the best way to learn is to jump in at the deep end.
The internet is a relatively new phenomenon, compared to the time it took to develop our brains as the basic human apparatus devoted to learning. There are huge opportunities associated with digital technologies, but there are equally big risks. Our lives have been transformed by the internet.
Schools do not equip people to adapt to change or to be questioning and critical about the internet. As a country, our basic and advanced skills in IT have increased year by year. Yes, there are regional, gender, age and socioeconomic differences, but progress and development have been amazing. Schools need to be at the forefront of developing digital understanding, but to do that they need qualified, enthusiastic and inspiring teachers and a school curriculum—and an EBacc—fit for purpose. All too often, Governments perceive a need to develop a subject, decree from on high how it will happen, but do not provide the resources and expertise needed.
I want young people to have the skills, but I also want them to understand the internet. For example, I want children at a young age to know that anyone who uses the internet creates and leaves a series of footprints: lasting impressions of all of an individual’s online activity which can be visible to others, particularly through social media. I want them to understand about data protection and cybersecurity. Understanding is about opportunities, but it is also about threats.
Finally, the biggest gap in digital skills, never mind understanding, is between socioeconomic groups. If you live in a deprived community, you cannot afford a PC, let alone an iPad or a smartphone: you do not have access to the technologies. Perhaps your local library, which might have had a bank of computers, has closed down or has been cut back. You can have all the understanding in the world, but it is for nought.
The internet is, undeniably, an important part of our lives and has transformed them for good. In her stunning speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, asked what type of digital world we want to create. To my mind, that would be the most important building block in our digital understanding.