Digital literacy is an increasing priority these days as the economies of the future depend on a basic level of skills and comfort in the digital realm.
Canada has a very digitally savy population in those over 30, according to report for the OECD.
But for those under 30, there is evidence we’re beginning to lag.
This is one of the areas high-lighted in a new report from The Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship based at Ryerson University in Toronto.
“layers of digital competency”
‘Levelling Up: The Quest for Digital Literacy in Canada’, is the title of the study. Sean Mullin is executive director of the Brookfield Institute.
“Canada’s got a lot to offer” he says. “We’ve got a lot of innovative approaches to teaching digital skills and competencies” but they are fragmented.
“They’re not put together in a coordinated way and as a result we risk falling behind and not allowing the next generation of our workforce to have the skills they need,” he said in an interview this afternoon.Listen
“What we’re seeing is, increasingly, almost all jobs across the economy are requiring higher levels of digital skills and if you don’t have those basic levels, you’re ability to enter into the workforce and become productive is severely limited”, he said.
The digital divide cuts across gender and socioeconomic realities in Canada.
In January, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, announced $50 million (Cdn), invested over two years, for coding programs in our education systems, from Kindergarten to grade 12, which is the end of high school.
Education is a provincial jurisdiction, so it is up to the provinces to apply the money and create the programs.
But when countries such as Britain and Australia have introduced coding to their core curricula in elementary and secondary school, Canada may be struggling to keep pace.
“Should everyone learn to code?”
The challenge lies also in the rate of change in digital technology and media.
“They change so quickly that to kind of institutionalise a way of ensuring people acquire them, is very, very hard” Mullin says.
It is “how the complexity of layering these skills makes it very difficult to devise a simple training plan.”
This is where the value of teaching “computational thinking” comes in.
Sean Mullin says he embraces the growing debate in Canada on the value of teaching coding.
“It’s not literally the action of learning how to code in a computer language that is truly useful” Mullin says.
“It’s these underlying concepts in computational thinking, understanding even in a general sense, algorithms, these are the things that are common, that underlie a bunch of different programming languages, and it’s those types of affinities that when you kind of approach a problem and understand the way a computer would solve them, would approach that problem, it’ll leave you much more resilient to kind of changes in the landscape.”