This article will focus on ‘Digital Literacy’, what it is and what it is not. It will also enable us to understand how the use of smartphones, game consoles, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media applications is not synonymous to digital literacy. Likewise, it will educate us on the importance of digital literacy and the role of stakeholders in digital literacy development. In addition, it highlights major basic digital skills required of our children and young adults as they journey into the future.
To a very large extent, everyone here seems to be familiar with the concept of literacy—the ability to read and write. A person who is illiterate, who cannot read or write, will inevitably struggle to get along in society. It is impossible to proceed and receive higher education or get high-paying jobs without the ability to read and write. Moreover, simple tasks such as reading newspapers or filling out job applications are difficult for an illiterate. Hence, literacy is necessary for survival in society.
Apparently, literacy in today’s world goes beyond the basic ability to comprehend text in terms of reading or writing. Students who would like to excel and compete favorably in this present world will also need to master a new kind of literacy—Digital Literacy. What is Digital Literacy? Cornell University simply defines Digital Literacy as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”
Digital Literacy, by this definition, encompasses a wide range of skills, all of which are necessary to succeed in an increasingly digital world. As the world goes digital, the ability to comprehend online data and information becomes automatically important, but students who lack digital literacy skills may soon find themselves at a disadvantage as those who cannot read or write.
Because digital literacy is so important, educators are increasingly required to teach students digital literacy in the classroom and parents in turn need to be more conscious of this reality so as to guide their children properly. In a way, this is similar to what educators have always done in teaching students to read and write. However, in another way, Digital Literacy is a brand new skill.
Most students already use digital technology, such as tablets, smartphones and computers at home. Many students already know how to navigate the web, share images on social media, and do a Google search to find information. Nonetheless, true digital literacy goes beyond these basic skills.
As we begin, it is very important to have a common understanding of the main concepts of the title before us, the “Digital” and “Digital Literacy”. Within the context of this address, the term digital refers to the use of information technologies and the Internet. Why is digital such a big deal? Here are a few reasons. The world is connected in such a way that news is available at our fingertips as it happens. Everyday activities – such as shopping, studying, using a telephone and banking – increasingly require interaction with technology. Children are born into a digital world and exposed to technology from a young age. At work, many routine processes are being automated, and at school, digital technology has opened up new ways of teaching and learning. On this account, technology is impacting on every area of life and the speed of change is accelerating.
Digital Literacy on its part, was aptly defined by UNESCO as “the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for study, employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. It includes competences that are variously referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, information literacy and media literacy.” It also includes the skills everyone needs to be effective online, be it searching for information, evaluating online information, communicating and sharing, or finding the right digital or online tools to suit particular needs.
In essence, digital literacy is about using your digital skills in different contexts and having the confidence to decide what is right for you, and its importance in all areas of life cannot be underestimated. While digital skills focus on different IT tools to use for different tasks and how to use those tools, digital skills also cover a wide range of software and services, depending on specialty, preference and career.
To the parents and most importantly educators, digital literacy is giving children the ability to think about why we use certain applications and why not others. For example, why do we choose to use Twitter? What are the risks involved in doing so? On the other side, digital skills involve teaching them the essentials which are required for using such digital applications, such as how to tweet, how to retweet, hashtags, trends, etc.