Celebrated every year on September 8, this year’s theme for International Literacy Day focused on “Literacy and Skills Development.” And this made me instantly think of digital literacy and why we need to push digital skill development among the populace. It does not take much time to move from pen and paper to keyboard and screen. After all, low-cost smartphones, wide penetration of the internet and cheap data have made it possible for even the less-educated to join the digital world.
I think we all will benefit from a refresher on digital literacy- what it means, what it entails and what are the requisite skills. Let’s start by understanding the term “digital literacy.”
What is digital literacy?
Literacy, stated simply, means the ability to read and write. Digital literacy goes a step ahead and encompasses a variety of skills necessary to be part of the digital world. So basically, a digital literate can use devices to communicate, transact, create, research and/or evaluate content and network with other digital citizens.
If we break it down further, to simplify matters, we can say that a digital literate is one who:
- Can operate a device: Use an internet-enabled device, understand and use the different functions, know how to secure the device and importance of security tools
- Has basic computer literacy: Can search the web, book an app cab; buy or sell things online; use the digital medium for work, entertainment, education or to create awareness
- Knows how to search for and create content: Uses devices to research, evaluate and compare data and also to create and share content
- Communicates via social media: Understands and uses various social media platforms for purposes ranging from education, entertainment, collaborations to networking
- Is aware of online threats and knows safe surfing habits: Stays aware of the digital environment and takes basic precautions when online
We all know why digital literacy has become such an important aspect of modern life. Technological advancement and increasing use of machine learning, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) has made it necessary for all to join the digital literacy bandwagon to understand how things work, communicate correctly, and know how to stay safe online.
Blackboards in schools are already a thing of the past with digital boards making their way into classrooms. Children do not need to go to the library to work on their projects, they simply ‘Google’ for the information. Teachers use available resources to make learning interesting and long-lasting. Children are also using apps to learn at their own pace and subjects customized to suit their interest. Homework assignments are more likely to be found in the WhatsApp messages from school than in school diaries. Digital literacy helps children to know how to select safe search sites, separate truth from falsity, be aware of the latest malware and phishing strategies and the need to avoid strangers and aggressive people online. They will also be adept at taking the right actions if they face negative behavior online.
Children are also on social media, using a plethora of devices. A digital literate would understand the implications of online actions and the probable consequences. They would also be well-versed in cyber etiquette, cyber ethics and cyber hygiene. Not only would they be moderate in their comments and posts, they would also show more diplomacy and empathy online. Importantly, they would know how to handle negative behavior like cyberbullying and trolling.
At home and work, we use a number of IoT devices. Hackers can break into these to steal our data or send us ransomware. Digital literacy arms us with the right skills to secure our online presence and keep our dear ones and our data safe.
As a parent your first question is likely to be- OK, so what are the skills that my child needs to have to be called a digital literate?
As you prepare your little tykes to become responsible digital citizens and take ownership of their online lives, do remember to reinforce time and again, the need for installing and running licensed security software like McAfee LiveSafe and McAfee Total in all their devices. Discuss and list the different ways the security tools help users to stay safe online and why skipping this step can lead to problems later.
Cheers to all you digital citizens. Ciao!