The key messages in this Spotlight reveal that:

  • Despite the increase in the availability of educational technology (edtech), Australian students’ digital literacy skills have decreased over time. Students need to be taught the skills relevant to acquiring digital literacy: practising digital safety and wellbeing, investigation, creating and exchanging, and managing and operating content.
  • Implemented well, edtech has the potential to deliver greater benefits to several student cohorts, including those with disabilities, those learning remotely, and students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • However, despite the likely benefits, there are potential drawbacks associated with the overuse of technology, including the negative effects of screen time on student learning, as well as indirect effects (such as impacts on anxiety and social relationships).
  • Teachers' perspectives, including the value they place on edtech, can influence its effective use. Confidence and ability to use edtech also have a significant impact on student outcomes.
  • School-based professional learning (PL), especially PL that is collaborative and includes applied practice, is particularly effective for improving knowledge of, and attitudes towards, edtech and its importance for developing the digital literacy of students.

The term ‘digital native’, introduced by Mark Prensky in 2001, is used to describe young people who have been surrounded by digital devices for their entire lives. Prensky proposed that young people born after 1980 were, by virtue of growing up in an increasingly digital world, “native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet” (Prensky, 2001). This idea continues to hold some attraction today, even though substantial research has since refuted this concept (Bennett & Maton, 2010; Eynon, 2023; Facer & Furlong, 2001). Responses from 1,876 Australian teachers, principals, and other relevant educational staff to a survey in 2019 demonstrated educators were aware of the limited digital literacy of many students (Gonski Institute for Education (GIE), 2020):

  • A woman with a laptop

    Still surprised at students’ lack of in-depth understanding of the digital technologies they use.

  • student image

    Students are not as tech savvy as people imagine. They can access apps but cannot perform basic search functions or basic computing functions.

  • A woman with a phone

    Despite the growth in the number of apps that can be used to create online content, many students are just passive content users.

    GIE, 2020 P. 22

Thus increased use of digital technologies by children and teenagers hasn’t corresponded to an increase in the digital skills or literacy of these students (GIE, 2020 P. 22), despite almost 20 years elapsing since Prensky first coined the phrase ‘digital natives’. Evidence from national and international assessments further refutes Prensky’s suggestion that young people are innately developing high level information and communication technology (ICT) skills by virtue of living in a digital world (Fraillon, 2019).

In Australia, the digital literacy of students is assessed periodically via the National Assessment Program – Information and Communication Technology Literacy (NAP–ICT Literacy). Commencing in 2005, this assessment has typically been undertaken on a 3-yearly basis, although the assessment due in 2021 was delayed until 2022 due to COVID-19 pandemic (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2023a). In 2022, only 55% of Year 6 students and 46% of Year 10 students reached their respective proficient standard for NAP–ICT Literacy (see Figure 1). Concerningly, the 13% of Year 6 students and 5% of Year 10 students at level 1 have trouble with very basic digital skills, such as opening email attachments, copying and pasting a column in a spreadsheet, or finding specific information on a webpage.

Figure 1. Digital literacy of Australian students, as measured by the 2022 NAP–ICT Literacy. Source: ACARA (2023a).
Digital literacy of Australian students, as measured by the 2022 NAP–ICT Literacy

Students have been increasingly immersed in a digital world over the last two decades, but the digital literacy of Australian students has not improved over time. For example, the proportion of Year 6 students reaching the proficient standard has typically hovered around 55% throughout this period (Figure 2; ACARA, 2023a). Furthermore, the proportion of Year 10 students who reach the proficient standard has declined over time, from a high of 66% in 2008 to a more recent low of 46% in 2022 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Changes in the digital literacy of Australian students since 2005, as measured by NAP–ICT Literacy. Source: ACARA (2023a).
Changes in the digital literacy of Australian students since 2005, as measured by NAP–ICT Literacy

This demonstrates why students need to learn about digital literacy throughout their school years. The Australian Curriculum Version 9.0 includes Digital Literacy as a general capability (ACARA, 2023b), emphasising its fundamental importance for students’ future lives. The Digital Literacy capability encompasses four elements (Figure 3; ACARA, 2023b), with a greater emphasis on students maintaining their digital safety and wellbeing than was seen in the previous general capability of ICT Literacy (ACARA, 2021).

Figure 3. The four elements of the Digital Literacy general capability outlined in the Australian Curriculum Version 9.0. Source: ACARA (2023b).
The four elements of the Digital Literacy general capability outlined in the Australian Curriculum


  1. Attributes that create the potential for learning; whether they be attributes of edtech, the user or result from interactions between these. Affordances can also include attributes that remove barriers to learning. Affordances for learning are typically pedagogical rather than technical per se (Badia et al., 2011)
  2. Assistive technologies (AT) are specialised products designed to enable the user to undertake or perform an action that their disability would otherwise preclude or hamper. “The right AT for an individual augments, bypasses, or compensates for a disability” (Edyburn, 2020).
  3. Augmentative and alternative communication refers to communicating by any means other than speech. This includes both "low tech" communication methods (e.g. facial expressions, gestures and hand-written notes) as well as "high tech" methods (such as text-to-speech generators).
  4. An umbrella review synthesises information from published meta-analyses, each of which evaluates the effects of multiple studies. This approach captures a wide range of research in a time-efficient manner.
  5. The number of hours a day that an individual spends looking at computers, smart phones, tablets and similar devices with screens.
  6. In relation to edtech, value beliefs indicate how valuable teachers perceive edtech as being for their teaching practice and student learning. (Vongkulluksn et al., 2018).