The Australian Curriculum measures student literacy as the development of knowledge, skills and dispositions to interpret and use language confidently for learning, communicating and participating effectively in society. It would be reasonable to accept that we are unanimous in our belief that improvement in a population’s literacy levels will benefit society as a whole.

But for the most part, in the education sector notions of digital literacy are considered in a technical light and overshadowed by the current obsession for all things STEM. Whilst requisite job skills are shifting toward a technology bent, we must not mistake STEM prowess as being the sole driver of innovation and change. Rather we need a balanced education mix that supports the development of empathic and insightful individuals that understand the digital eco-system and can perceive and solve problems at all levels, not just technically.

Having a population that is digitally enabled is a key socio-economic factor for government and enterprise. Terms such as digital exclusion and the digital gap equate to leaving the handbrake on when attempting to streamline and reduce costs of government and commercial service delivery. And given the prevalence of smartphones and community online centres around Australia we know that digital exclusion is not simply a symptom of no online access, but rather a lack of confidence in, and awareness of, the benefits of the Internet and connected technology.

But possibly more worrying is the ignorance and flawed decision making of the digitally included who for the most part have embraced the digital realm but with little or no understanding of what they are relinquishing or how their online behaviour affects others. And given that literacy is about building skills for learning, communicating and effective participation in society, our attention to digital literacy is well short of the ideal.

This argument is not directed solely at young people alone, adult behaviour falls well short of the ideal. A cursory visit to nearly any online forum would demonstrate the point. Anecdotally, on sites as innocuous as DIY help forums, I would estimate that six is the number of posts it takes before things start to get ugly between participants. Understanding of online privacy and the extent of what users have relinquished about themselves in return for the use of social media platforms is nearly non-existent. Online fraud is rife but not because of the cleverness of cybercriminals, but rather the ignorance of victims. Disregard for others’ online property because if it’s online it must be free, right? The increasing prevalence of cyberbullying, far more prolific than reported.

You might think that these are arguments against embracing the digital world, but far from it. These are arguments for a focused and concerted approach to digital literacy for all Australians. A paradigm shift – one where we realise that the perceived anonymity of the Internet is exactly that, perceived. And just because we can’t see the person we are abusing, the shopkeeper from whom we are stealing or the organisation we are giving personal data to, they are just as real as the person next to us on the bus, the grocer down the road and the company we work for.

If we want to be a digitally smart country that benefits from all the positives the connected world offers then we need to be digitally smart and responsible, we need digital literacy skills. And to achieve this we need a government that recognises the issue as a much broader platform, that realises in addition to a technically knowledgeable workforce we need good digital citizens.

Craig Dow Sainter is a factual TV producer and a developer of online education and training resources for the education, government and corporate sectors in UK and Australia. He has a particular interest in behavioural change training. He is a partner and managing director at Roar Educate and Roar Film. Here, Craig writes for the Communicating: The Heart Of Literacy initiative – find more at chattermatters.com.au.

Something to think about: What is it about technology that brings out the worst in us? We (hopefully) wouldn’t abuse people face-to-face, steal their property or be so blasé about our own privacy and security in our life offline. Is it the perceived anonymity of connected technology? Or is this our true nature being let off the leash? Or is it something else entirely?