The future of education in the context of digitalization & equal opportunities

A cooperative research project on the digital competencies of school dropouts and apprentices at the start of their working lives.



The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that Austria has a lot of catching up to do in terms of digital literacy and that it - as well as Europe as a whole - is still far from digital sovereignty. Not least, the lack of preparation with regard to distance learning and the uncoordinated approach to the use of corresponding technologies have highlighted urgent potential for development.

This concerns not only the technical equipment and didactic preparation, but also the competencies required for it. The main question here is, which competencies the digitalization of society actually requires. For example, the reproduction of knowledge is replaced by competencies in information acquisition, digitally supported cooperation and critical reflection of sources and data literacy. Didactically, this means a shift from unidirectional mediation to joint construction, to field testing and collaboration.

Furthermore, the widening of the already existing educational gap as a digital divide raises issues of social inequality in the context of digitalization, where first-order (access to hardware) and second-order (usage skills) social differences can be differentiated.

The challenge in the wake of digitalization is to develop strategies and concepts to prevent digitalization from increasing the already large social inequality in the education system (Samuelsson & Olsson, 2014; Schaumburg, 2018; Tawfik et al., 2016).

Both aspects - digital literacy and digital divide - play a central role not only in the school context but also in the world of work. If digital competencies are not or only insufficiently acquired, there is a risk of reduced opportunities on the labor market, technological and digital "illiteracy," as well as financial and social risks from cyber fraud, digital bullying, and so on.

The early acquisition of digital skills is therefore of central importance, especially for apprentices, who are rarely focused on in the ongoing discussions (see also, for example, the infrastructure equipment in vocational schools).

We believe that it is necessary and expedient to take a deeper look at this target group - future skilled workers - who are nevertheless at risk of being on the wrong side of the digital divide, together with their teachers and trainers, especially since around 40% of an age group start an apprenticeship after completing compulsory school.

Goals and issues

The education of the future and the digitalization of our working and living environments are undoubtedly closely intertwined. Digitalization is increasingly becoming both content (education for a digitalized world) and an instrument for the continuous acquisition of education (education through digitalized learning). This is not just a matter of creating suitable digital options for learning and teaching and enabling or teaching as many learners as possible to use those options. Rather, educational goals and concepts themselves and the "traditional" way of imparting them in the (Austrian) education system must also be discussed. However, often (only) the technical possibilities are in the center of the discourse (notebooks for all, same learning platforms etc.). Obviously, the "equipment" is a central element, but for its meaningful use, appropriate competencies are also needed. High motivation for learning and further development are important targets here, as is the ability to deal with constant change (e.g., ever new media, forms of learning and work) - for individuals and education systems.

Digitalization in general, also as a part of education, has massive social consequences and effects that must be taken into account and also communicated (in the sense of a shared responsibility of the individual). When we discuss which opportunities the digitalization of education offers for the future of society, we must therefore also ask questions about the main competencies that learners, teachers, and also people in all working and living environments and employees need for this, including:

  • Which concrete competencies do which groups (teachers and learners) need in order to be able to survive in their working, learning and life environments?
  • What strengths and weaknesses do apprentices and school leavers in compulsory school and higher education see in their own digital skills?
  • Where do potential employers see gaps with regard to the digital competencies of school leavers and apprentices?

    Dates and Facts

    • Duration: 10/2022-06/2023
    • Funding: Rat für Forschung und Technologieentwicklung (RFTE)
    • Project employees: Julia Schöllbauer, Lars Uhlig (Universität Wien, Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie), Elisabeth Pelikan, Christian Haider, Elisa Metzler (Universität Wien, Bildungspsychologie), Laura Kösten (Universität Wien, Forschungsgruppe Visualization and Data Analysis), Zora Vakavlieva (Institut für Höhere Studien)
    • Project supervisors: Christian Korunka (Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie), Barbara Schober (Bildungspsychologie)
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