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The Digital Literacy Crisis

Literacy is a basic benchmark for the academic and career success of an individual.   Research has shown that 85 percent of juveniles who interface with the court system are functionally illiterate. [1]  In addition, 60 percent of incarcerated individuals cannot read above a fourth grade level.[2]  While a lack of literacy doesn’t mean that one will gravitate to those extremes, we do see a relationship.  A lack of literacy cuts people off from access to critical information, like health care, job opportunities and other parts of civic life.

This crisis has always been with us.  However, today we have another literacy crisis on our hands.  Digital literacy is the issue.  Digital literacy is defined as the ability to communicate in a digital environment.  This involves the skill to search, retrieve, decipher and share digital information.  Examples of digital literacy would be using an internet browser, summarizing sales data in Excel or creating a weather model using sophisticated software.

Why is it a crisis? In the following text we will discuss the shifts around us that has contributed to the crisis before us.


Cultural Shifts

Technology is changing so rapidly today.  In this day and age digital fluency is required for survival.  For example pay phones have nearly become extinct today.  Now there is a cell phone in every pocket.  If people don’t keep up with the pace of change it will be very difficult to become active members of a society.  This cultural shift carries itself into the workplace.  Employees are increasingly expected to be more technologically savvy.  They are expected to incorporate the technological shifts in the society within their work.  For example, in the field of business financial modelling is an important activity.  Financial modeling is creating financial forecasts for an organization.  These models are typically built in Excel and rely on assumptions by the builder.  Today we can integrate machine learning techniques within Excel to create more robust forecasts.   However, many members of the Finance field are unaware of tools like that.  These members are becoming increasing out of date by the second.



Technology is changing so quickly today yet people as a whole are not keeping up with those strides.  For example, the typical high school curriculum places keyboarding and computer classes as electives.  In this day and age where there is a computer in almost every pocket schools are not educating students how to use them.  Higher education is doing a better job in this arena, however more still is needed. Within higher education curriculum, changes take so long to be implemented.  A response to changes in the environment can take a higher education institution over a year to enact.  Those organization need to be more nimble in order to provide cutting edge offerings for students.  Today, we hear more about data privacy, big data and cryptocurrencies, yet a majority of the population still has a vague understanding of those items.



The third area demonstrating that a digital crisis is upon us are industry trends.  Currently the average company spends less than $1,000 per year training managers and front-line employees.  This is a partly sum.  Given the pace at which technology is evolving that budget will not be able adequately to train all employees.  A continual downturn within investing into people will lead to a decreased digital fluency.  Organizations should be investing more into the development of their people.  Most people do not have enough disposable income for continuing education.  Many are still under the crushing weight of higher education debt.  The only means to fund continued education is through investment from organizations.


The population shift also adds to the crisis at hand.  A majority of the population is increasingly becoming elderly.  Older people are staying alive much longer.  While from a healthcare perspective that represents strides in technology, bit other unintended consequences are revealed.  For example, Seniors are not typically inclined to stay abreast of technology changes.  That leaves the burdens upon the young to “keep up to date”.  That can lead to stresses, due to the uneven distribution.


Thus far I’ve presented arguments outlining the crisis before us.  Unless clear and direct steps are taken, that problem will multiple and grow.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/illiteracy-rate_n_3880355.html

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/illiteracy-rate_n_3880355.html

About the author



Othniel Denis is currently Principal of Excellent Ones Consulting LLC. He brings with him a background in finance, training, and information management systems. Prior to opening his own firm, Othniel spent the last 13 years in finance as an Analyst at organizations like New York University, Nassau County Government and Brookhaven National Laboratory to name a few...

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