18 January, 2021
This year has made it abundantly clear: we live in a digital world. And although it can be daunting for the older generation to be faced with an onslaught of ever-evolving technology, it is different for our kids. Screens are as integral to their world as print was to our era – and our children’s navigation of the digital world depends on their digital literacy.
According to US Digital Literacy, the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, and Common Sense Media, digital literacy is defined as the ability to competently and responsibly use digital technology and communication tools to find, evaluate, use and create information. But how, and why, should your kids acquire these skills?
The first skills which are taught to young children at school are literacy and numeracy. But literacy should not just extend to reading and writing, but also to literacy in the ever-important digital space – staying safe online, finding reliable information, and not just using, but developing software. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it seems. School libraries are the first port of call for schoolchildren to access information, yet 40% of US public school libraries have no full-time certified librarians on their staff. What’s more, the computer science curriculum is inadequate. Technology is changing exponentially and cannot be treated in the same static way as other school subjects; while history or science class can reasonably be taught with a decades-old textbook, teaching digital literacy is impossible with outdated resources.
Given that 75% of Americans use the internet as part of their jobs, digital literacy is a crucial skill. And just as private school pupils are more likely to attend elite colleges and end up in better paid careers, kids who are successfully prepared for the digital world have an advantage over those who are not. There is a real issue, then, with the digital skills gap. Across 24 US states, only 35% of high schools taught computer science at all, and pupils from minority, poorer, or rural backgrounds were less likely to attend these schools. No child should be denied future opportunities because of their background.
The internet has been praised as the great equaliser, providing independent news, free education resources, and limitless connection, allowing us to build a better world from the ground up. But as we have seen, even the most intelligent of adults can struggle to use the internet responsibly. As the saying goes, the children are the future – and teaching them to be digitally literate will ensure that they can research properly, use technology safely, and make the most of the wealth of information at their fingertips. In fact, digital literacy is key for what is known as ‘effective citizenship’ – participating in community and political life, staying informed about important issues, and finding a voice.
Though kids today are referred to as ‘digital natives’, their computer skills are sorely lacking. The International Computer and Information Literacy Study in 2018, an assessment of the ICT abilities of 42,000 8th grade students from 14 countries, revealed that only 19% could work independently with computers in real-world situations. The pandemic could not have illuminated this issue further, when the sudden switch to online schooling caught out millions of people, not least kids. With hybrid or online teaching, digital literacy in its most basic form – the ability to type, use office and remote learning software, and troubleshoot the Wi-Fi – has extremely tangible benefits (and not just for the kids themselves, but for parents acting as tech support and unable to focus on their own work!) For more tips on how to make remote learning more engaging and successful, check out our article.
With such a high proportion of jobs involving technology, digital literacy provides a stepping-stone to the future. But kids’ literacy can be advanced to another level by learning to code, allowing them to become not just users but creators of the digital space. Alongside the clear benefits of digital literacy, computer programming teaches kids transferable skills like problem solving, creativity, and abstract thinking. What’s more, coding opens up a world of career opportunities.
If, like us, you believe that digital literacy provides critical preparation for your child’s present and future, then CodeAdvantage’s courses are a great way to introduce your child to the digital world. Our project-based classes are available in many different formats, from online classes and 1:1 lessons, to coding learning pods and school break camps.
Thanks for reading this article and if you have any questions or comments on this topic or coding and STEM in general, please feel free to contact us.
Photo by Algernai Hayes, Adam Winger, Alex Kotliarskyi, Haseeb Modi, Wesley Tingey on Unsplash