Who can succeed online?

We need everyone to have the skills to read, write and participate in the digital world, so more people can move beyond consuming to actually creating, shaping and defending the Web.

Technology is easier to use today than it was 20 year ago, and this has made the Internet far more accessible to people around the world of all ages. But the simplification of tools and software also makes it less necessary to understand how the Internet works. In other words, today you can have more digital skills, without much of a clue about what the Web is or where content comes from. This lack of understanding is a hidden crisis of the digital era.

The concept of universal Web literacy (that everyone should be able to read, write and participate online) has emerged in response. In order for people to understand how to shape the Web – or even how to keep themselves safe online, or make a living with the Internet – we need to make sure everyone has the skills they need for healthy Internet citizenship.

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Worldwide, there is great focus on bringing Internet skills into the school classroom. Education policies and curriculums are shifting to recognize that digital skills are crucial to economic development. There is even a trend towards integrating coding into the core curriculum across most of Europe. Increasing the number of young adults with Internet skills is a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, and the UN now tracks schools with computers and Internet.

Also promising is how many informal educators are driving innovation in Web literacy and coding education around the world.

Examples include everything from EU Code Week and The New York Public Library Techconnect, to free online options such as Codeacademy and many others.

There is also a boom in diversity programs aimed at underrepresented communities in the tech industry. Programs focused on women are the most common—including Girls Develop It in the US, Ladies Learning Code in Canada, Akira Chixs in Kenya, TechLadies in Singapore and the online Women’s Coding Collective, just to name a few.


Most people still don’t really understand how the Internet works at a basic level. Often when “digital skills” is emphasized in public policy, the focus is on training people to become better at using their computers or even to learn basic coding, not on deeper Web literacy skills that prepare people to thrive and adapt in a connected world.

For example, without knowledge of how to verify sources online, both young and old minds become fertile grounds for fake news and rumors with detrimental effects for society.

There is an assumption that people living in the global South who are coming online for the first time via mobile, will naturally develop the Web literacy skills needed to change their economies simply by means of access. But there is little evidence to support this fact.

Even young people who grew up with access to the Internet don’t automatically develop strong Web literacy skills. Studies show that many young people in the US and the UK cannot distinguish promotional content from news articles or ads from search results.

Web literacy skills, including but not limited to coding, will become more important to the jobs of tomorrow. This is true all around the world. As such, we are likely to see socio-economic divides grow between those with Web literacy skills and those without. And as usual, women, rural and marginalized populations, currently stand last in line to benefit in any way.


If we don’t act, we will end up with an Internet where most people remain passive, online consumers rather than active participants and creators. We should resist the deepening of divides between the few who know how the technology works, and a majority who do not.

We need everyone to recognize that Web literacy is more than coding. Governments, educators and parents need to be champions for Web literacy, and foster creative opportunities for young people to develop these skills. Technology companies should also be thinking of more ways to include Web literacy and learning into how people engage with their products.

Web literacy has become a 4th foundational skill next to reading, writing and arithmetic. We have made great strides towards universal Web literacy in the last 20 years, but we need even deeper commitments to ensure our skills match up to the greater role the Internet plays in our lives.

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Social media


Many people think Facebook is the Internet.

A small-scale survey in five countries showed that many Facebook users either don’t know the app is on the Internet, or have no idea there is an Internet beyond Facebook. Without Web literacy, we cannot expect people to understand what the Internet can do for them, or why they should care.


Internet skills gap

37% of Europe’s workforce have insufficient digital skills, 13% have none at all.

European employers in most sectors now demand some knowledge of the Web. The European Union has invested in training over 2 million people since 2013 to bridge the digital skills gap. Worldwide, we need more policies to educate, from childhood to adulthood, so no one is left behind.

Interest vs. abilities

Web making skills

People are interested in “making” online but often lack confidence.

Mozilla asked 300 people in India, Bangladesh, Kenya and the US about their digital skills. 62% said they were interested in “making” online, but 53% had little or no confidence in their abilities. By teaching literacy, we can boost people’s confidence to take full advantage of the Web.

Interest in "making" online

Confidence in abilities

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Jonathan North Priluck
I was born outside the box. Instinctively I understand both the problem and the solution. I have been immersed in science and technology since I was born. I see the potential in people, all people, young middle and old. The project is a seed. All things start small. Most things begin as an idea. Most ideas are never acted on. This is the nature of life. There are many seeds, tons of sprouts, less and less, more and more, everything at once, forwards and backwards. The mighty oak tree is little more than a nut who stood it’s ground. I… Read more »
Shravan Tatari
Shravan Tatari

If only everyone in this ‘digital’ world thinks like Jonathan North Priluck, this world would become a better place to live.

David Stricker
David Stricker

Include Everyone and harm none? I can see some real organic system for this (even then, people die from organic genetic problems) but not a digital, powered by companies and governments systems. This is too idealistic! If everyone was Mother Theresa or Jesus or Buddha, …., the world would be paradise, but it is not. It is strange how naive people continue to be. When I was young, I was fooled by such idealism, but then I saw the people pushing it, well, they were more full of crap than me and they made a living at it!!! Hello!!

jonathan priluck
David, I appreciate your position. It’s practical. But there is a very important role for idealism, unrealistic optimism. The simple fact that a lot of people can’t, won’t, or didn’t follow through in their youthful exuberance is not the point. You were not fooled. I don’t know you, so I can’t really say, it’s only a guess. But depending on your age, your experience in life, in particular how typical/atypical it has been so far, your world view is singular. We all feel our views are unique, and that’s true, they are, but only in the minutia. The human experience… Read more »

This is what we need, really. Thank you for promoting what is missing in this both complex and simple at the same time digital era.


I would fall under the category “interested in making content” but I also fall under the category “lacking confidence in my skills”.

Jonathan North Priluck

Confidence is internal. You just decide you are going to do something. Then you go do it!