Friday, June 9, 2017

The New Digital Divide

When I first started teaching the digital divide was access. Educators were set on making sure that technology was available and ready for student use. The goal was for equity was in the physical presence of devices. And while physical presence of devices might not be where everyone would like, we are living in an area of unprecedented ubiquity of technology in education. With 1:1 initiatives and BYOD programs, many schools have done the work of closing the access gap. However this access has only highlighted a larger issue in our schools -- the digital skills gap.

The New Digital Divide.

Now that we have technology in students hands, what are we doing with it? Not enough. I've posted before about the myth of the digital native, about how we don't do enough to challenge, train, or encourage even the most practical technology use. Since we assume kids know how to use technology "well enough", we shortchange them on the real world technology skills they  need to be marketable, employable, and viable in a 21st century economy.

Studies show that 78% of middle skills jobs require baseline digital literacy. This means understanding stuff like spreadsheets, word processing, managing communication software like email, etc. And the more connected our world and economy comes, the more this number is going to grow. The truth is, if we want to produce students that are ready for even the most entry level of jobs, they are going to have to have baseline digital skills.

And if you think we already do enough of this, think again. A report by ETS shows that the United States is one of the poorest performing countries in digital literacy. The study, which looked at labor force millenials' (ages 16-34) ability in technology rich environments, shows that among developed countries, the United States ranks near the bottom with 56% below proficiency level 2. For comparison's sake, Finland was 32% and Japan was 33%.

All of this to say, in an increasingly globalized world, the United States isn't competitive enough when it comes to imparting the skills to be successful in modern economic environments. This is bad news for the country, but even worse news for our students who will struggle to gain employment and make a livable wage.

To address this, it is imperative that our schools develop digital literacy goals on an institutional level. We need to work with employers and institutions of continuing education to target the most high impact digital skills that our learners need today and in the future. And we must integrate these skills into the content we are already teaching. Digital literacy is more than something that would be helpful -- it's something modern students require. And we must do more to ensure it's taught and modeled in our schools.

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