The tech lit­er­acy im­per­a­tive

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In many parts of the world, young chil­dren grow up sur­rounded by tech­nol­ogy. At their fin­ger­tips – lit­er­ally – lies a lim­it­less amount of en­ter­tain­ment, gam­ing, learn­ing, and so­cial net­work­ing.

Their world has al­ways been con­nected. They learn to scroll be­fore they can walk. And yet, as con­fi­dent as they may be us­ing tech­nol­ogy, too many chil­dren have no idea how it all works. Nor do they fully ap­pre­ci­ate how it un­der­pins their lives – or how it will shape their fu­tures.

I think of this as the tech lit­er­acy para­dox. To­day’s chil­dren may be great con­sumers of tech­nol­ogy, but rarely are they truly tech lit­er­ate. They may look like savvy dig­i­tal na­tives, but their knowl­edge is only screen­deep. They are pas­sive users, not ac­tive cre­ators. And most of them have lit­tle real in­ter­est in find­ing out how the tech­nol­ogy on which they de­pend ac­tu­ally func­tions.

This has im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions. Economies are un­der­go­ing rad­i­cal shifts in terms of how they pro­duce, dis­trib­ute, and con­sume goods and ser­vices. Ev­ery as­pect of life and work is chang­ing. Greater tech lit­er­acy will be es­sen­tial to en­sure that the hu­man im­pli­ca­tions of the on­go­ing Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion are pos­i­tive.

If young peo­ple are to par­tic­i­pate fully in our in­creas­ingly tech-en­abled world, greater num­bers of them will have to be tech lit­er­ate. If they are to be em­pow­ered cit­i­zens, not just be­guiled con­sumers, they will need to un­der­stand how tech­nol­ogy af­fects their lives and prospects.

Not only will there be more tech jobs in the fu­ture; in­creas­ingly, more jobs will have a tech di­men­sion to them, es­pe­cially as sci­en­tific ad­vances play a ma­jor role in solv­ing some of so­ci­ety’s big­gest chal­lenges – cli­mate change, health care, poverty, and in­equal­ity.

That is why BT has made a long-term com­mit­ment to use our skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties to help build a cul­ture of tech lit­er­acy. We want young peo­ple to know that they will be the cre­ators and builders of our fu­ture – in ev­ery sense. We want them to get ex­cited about look­ing be­yond the screen, to make and do stuff.

That means learn­ing to code, of course. But it also means be­com­ing flu­ent in com­pu­ta­tional think­ing and prob­lem solv­ing. And, per­haps most im­por­tant, it means be­com­ing an en­gaged tech ci­ti­zen. For ex­am­ple, all young peo­ple should un­der­stand who has ac­cess to their per­sonal data, how it is be­ing used, and why that mat­ters. Ac­com­plish­ing this will not be easy. It will take more than sim­ply mak­ing sure that chil­dren have ac­cess to iPads.

Any ini­tia­tive to boost tech lit­er­acy must fo­cus on three ar­eas. First, kids must be in­spired to learn about the tech­nol­ogy they use ev­ery day; they must “con­nect” with tech con­cepts and find them ex­cit­ing. At BT, we are col­lab­o­rat­ing with tech en­trepreneurs and education thinkers to de­velop fresh and cre­ative ways to en­gage young peo­ple’s in­nate cu­rios­ity.

Se­cond, teach­ers must be sup­ported, as many do not feel con­fi­dent to teach tech lit­er­acy. We can help with that. Al­ready, we have en­gaged with thou­sands of teach­ers in the United King­dom; in the last school year, we reached nearly 350,000 pri­mary-school chil­dren, and we aim to reach five mil­lion by 2020. We have also col­lab­o­rated with education in­no­va­tors at MIT to bring new cod­ing tools into class­rooms.

Third, schools must be prop­erly equipped. Mak­ing sure stu­dents have ac­cess to the lat­est tech­nol­ogy is a chal­lenge even for ad­vanced coun­tries. In the UK, we are work­ing to en­sure that our high-speed fiber broad­band con­nects the hard­est-to-reach schools. And we are us­ing our ex­per­tise to help teach­ing pro­fes­sion­als who are ea­ger to make tech an in­te­gral part of schools’ ev­ery­day life.

A suc­cess­ful tech lit­er­acy pro­gramme re­quires a long-term, sus­tained com­mit­ment to all three pil­lars of this ap­proach. We ex­pect it will take a school gen­er­a­tion to re­al­ize the cul­tural shift we be­lieve is nec­es­sary.

Pre­vi­ous in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tions un­locked so­cial progress only when they were ac­com­pa­nied by changes in education – in par­tic­u­lar, con­certed ef­forts to boost lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy.

If we want ev­ery­body to ben­e­fit from the rad­i­cal upheavals trans­form­ing the world’s economies, fur­ther changes in education will be needed. Among the most im­por­tant of th­ese will be those that build a strong cul­ture of tech lit­er­acy.

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