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We are seeing a deeper digital divide emerging among youngsters

By extending its app to 16 and 17-year-olds, itsme hopes to get this group involved with digitisation at an earlier age. Because even though they grew up with the Internet, we are still seeing a deeper digital divide emerging among youngsters. The recent Digital Inclusion Barometer from the King Baudouin Foundation, which is based on Flemish, Walloon and federal statistics, shows that in 2021, one in three (33%) young people aged between 16 and 24 had poorly developed digital skills. In particular, young people with low levels of education do not fit the stereotypical image of ‘digital natives’: 45% of them have poor digital skills, compared with 22% of those with a higher education qualification. There is also a growing gap when it comes to e-administration. Only 56% of poorly educated young people used e-administration services in 2021, compared with 86% with higher qualifications. This gap widened from 28% to 30% between 2019 and 2021. “All of this raises questions about the digitalisation of many services,” it says in the study. “A minimum skill set is needed to keep up in an ever-changing digitised world. So the widening gap is certainly problematic for certain groups of people.” 

The annual Digimeter survey from the imec research centre also features figures that are not very uplifting. Young people in Flanders may be very nimble-fingered when it comes to using their smartphone and TikTok, yet almost a quarter (24%) of 16 to 24-year-olds are not up to speed with all the digital jargon. For example, for 1 youngster in 4, terms such as the cloud, 5G, two-factor authentication, etc. are all a bit too technical for it to be implicitly assumed that young people know them well. In fact, 17% even say that they avoid some digital applications because they are simply not familiar with them. “As a society, we are facing a huge challenge if we intend to narrow this digital divide as soon as possible,” says imec.  

The generation of 'digital natives', having grown up in a constantly evolving digital world, is naturally more competent. However, these young people often only have a smartphone (97% of them) and are often helpless when faced with another computer tool. According to the ‘Baromètre sur la maturité numérique des citoyens wallons’ (2021), carried out by Digital Wallonia, as far as online administrative procedures are concerned, administrative sites are not very popular with the youngest members of the 15 to 25 age group, with the exception of that of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, and are especially favoured by the 25 to 55 or 60 age group. They are also significantly more used by people who have obtained a higher education and/or university diploma. According to the Walloon Barometer, digital education in schools needs to be drastically strengthened, whether for basic notions at primary school or for more specific aspects such as online safety, which is addressed from the 6th grade onwards.