Don’t underestimate the power of being online

By Dr Sangeet Bhullar, Founder of Wisekids

Living in Newport in South Wales and having excellent connectivity to the internet gives me a distinct advantage professionally and personally (with family living abroad). This point is brought home to me every time I travel in our beautiful Welsh countryside and encounter areas where there is poor mobile/internet connectivity.

The impact of this lack of access cannot be underestimated for individuals, families, communities and businesses. However, the lack of access is only the first barrier. Another barrier, even amongst those with access, may be the deeper digital literacy [1] needed to fully maximise opportunities from these connected technologies.

And these opportunities cannot be underestimated.

Used purposefully, these technologies connect us to an online world full of people, content, services, entertainment. And whilst online, size does not matter – reputation, transparency and quality do. Especially if the only way that others can learn about you is via the internet. All these skills also go beyond the merely functional. They encompass the social and emotional intelligence to understand how the world, society and life is changing as a result of these connected technologies, as well as how to interact, create and gain benefits with and from these technologies.

Digital and other technologies are also changing the very nature of skills, services, jobs and solutions needed today and in the years to come – whether for example, you are a scientist studying big data to create better infrastructure solutions for your city, an Uber inventor, a filmmaker utilising the latest CGI techniques in your film, or a hospital delivering tele-health services remotely.

What does this mean for our young people and the skills that they need to be developing through school and further education? I believe it means we need to value learning not as an end goal with an end point, but as a constant ongoing process. And we need to be nurturing a culture of creativity, inquiry and excellence. We are fortunate in Wales. In his review on the curriculum in Wales [2], Professor Graham Donaldson has stressed the importance of these skills. He has also singled out Digital Competence as a key requirement for 21st century living, and has called for it to be the third pillar in the curriculum, alongside literacy and numeracy. He has also emphasised that it should not be seen as an ‘IT issue’, but as a cross-curricular responsibly for all teachers and people who work with children and young people.

The world of education provides us with some of the best examples of how digital is transforming the many different facets of teaching and learning, and removing the walls of a traditional classroom. Today, you and I can learn virtually anything online, and terms like YouTube, blogs, podcasts, social media are commonplace jargon. The fact that some of the top universities globally are putting their course content online for free, or that some of the top institutions are running free MOOCS (Massive Open Online Learning) courses in a diverse range of subjects, which anyone can join, often for free – changes where, what and how we can learn.

But all of this innovation could sit like beautiful cakes in an invisible bakery. If the passers-by are not aware of the bakery, they will not step in or sample the wares – so simple availability is not enough. We need to educate, guide and inspire old and young to understand the changing landscape. We also need to look at the ecosystems in which our young people live – our families, schools, colleges and universities, and all the places of informal learning in-between to understand what the gaps are, and the support systems necessary to help young people overcome obstacles and thrive in society.

And these go well beyond digital skills. I feel we are on the right track, but there is still much work that needs to be done.

References:

[1] In their Digital Literacy Professional Development Resource [https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/FUTL07/FUTL07.pdf ], Nesta Futurelab defined digital literacy as follows:

“….digital literacy goes beyond a focus on the individual technical competence and functional skills needed in order to operate digital tools; it refers to the more subtle and situated practices associated with being able to create, understand and communicate meaning and knowledge in a world in which these processes are increasingly mediated via digital technologies”.

[2] Successful Futures – Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales. By Professor Graham Donaldson CB, February 2015. See http://gov.wales/docs/dcells/publications/150225-successful-futures-en.pdf

The Wales Co-operative Centre has been working to address issues of digital exclusion in Wales for over 11 years now. Working with Welsh Government the Wales Co-operative Centre has delivered three major initiatives: Communities@One, Communities 2.0 and now Digital Communities Wales. The work has made a significant contribution to addressing the digital divide in Wales, but there is plenty more to be done, as more and more services and interactions are moving into an online space.

Ahead of Get Online Week 2016  (17 -23 October), the Wales Co-operative Centre has  invited a wide range of contributors to write a guest blog on Everyone’s Business blog site in an effort to highlight the on going need for organisations across Wales to work together to address issues of digital inclusion.

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