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Digital literacy a national imperative

Published: 
Monday, August 31, 2015
Science and Society

It is a truism that governments are responsible for providing educational facilities for all of its citizens, at least up to the primary level. This is to ensure that all and sundry should be able to read and write. 

Minimal levels of literacy is a necessary life skill without which individuals would find functioning in society nigh impossible. This ability to read and interpret and to be able to write is termed basic literacy. There are various types of literacy. There is cultural literacy, scientific literacy, economic literacy etc, all of which are important for maintaining a prosperous and harmonious society.

For instance, in plural societies like that exists here in T&T, cultural literacy is essential if we are to defuse the ranting and raving of those driven by self-serving narrow agendas and who seek to create divisions. Literacy of whichever kind is what allows us to communicate and interact with our fellowmen; to form networks of friends. This skill is necessary in order to live in any community, be it local, regional or international. 

The Internet has resulted in a digitally interconnected world. Think Facebook, WhatsApp, twitter etc. 

The globe is set to become even more linked (wirelessly though) as humans are able to connect to more and more devices. This is the goal of the coming Internet of Things when you would be able to control your home appliances by your smart phone, no matter where you are. All economies will eventually become digital economies, some faster than others of course. The digital economy has already arrived in T&T and is set to deepen. So digital literacy must be a national imperative.

Digital literacy can be defined as the knowledge of and skills (technical and behavioural) required to effectively utilise the networks of digital devices inclusive of smart phones, tablets and computers. The starting point, of course, would be the developing familiarity and expertise on a PC or tablet.

This process is greatly enhanced if it occurs in the formative years of a person’s development. Thus the primary focus of the ongoing laptop distribution programme is the engendering digital literacy in all secondary students in the first instance. 

As it is the responsibility of government to ensure that all children acquire the requisite literacy skills, one is hard-pressed to understand criticisms of the programme. It is tantamount to saying that students should be deprived of this basic and necessary skill, one that would allow them to function in the interconnected world in which we live. Imagine how ridiculous it would have sounded if there were protests about school books programme which it was launched years ago.

Detractors of this programme should be mindful of the fact that giving laptop computers all students levels the educational playing field. There are many families who would not be able to afford laptops for their children. The ongoing programme ensures that all students, irrespective of their economic backgrounds, have the opportunity to acquire the essential skill of digital literacy.

The jobs of now, and this would be the case even more so in the future, will require all employees to be digitally literate as opposed to being only skilled in a particular computer software like the Microsoft Word Suite for example. Literacy is not expertise but rather the foundational platform upon which expertise may be built. It is something like common sense.

The proposal to introduce the distribution programme at the primary level is laudable and worthy of serious consideration. Already, those who can afford it, do buy tablets for their children. Various options may be considered, such as the subsidising of the cost of the tablets in the first instance whilst textbooks are reformatted as e-books for downloading to the tablets.

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