5 ways to turn citizens from digital amateurs to experts

Over half of the world's population have no digital skills

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Half of the world’s adult population have no ICT skills, according to the OECD. At best, they can only fulfil the simplest of technological tasks.

But as technology replaces easy-to-automate menial work, workers will need to use their creativity to solve problems the machines can’t touch. This means strong digital skills are becoming part of more and more job descriptions.

Meanwhile, as government services, banks and shops go online, digital skills are mainstreamed. Citizens have no choice but to engage, and those without digital skills can be marginalised.

For this reason, any government exploring a digital transformation agenda also needs to think about the level of digital skills in its population.

So while traditional education budgets focus on early-in-life education, governments are also having to rethink lifelong learning. Singapore was an early adopter, establishing a lifelong learning fund in 2001.

Cultural shifts take time. But there are things that can be done in the meantime to swiftly upskill citizens.

Understand your skills gaps

The Republic of Korea is an economic success story, shifting from one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s to a major economic power by the 1990s.

However, its remarkable tech advances meant that vulnerable groups, without access to the Internet or technologies, risked being pushed to the margins.

In 2004, the Korean government started to publish its Digital Divide Index, measuring the Internet usage and digital literacy of vulnerable groups set against the general population.

Focusing on six population groups—including North Korean refugees, disabled people, the elderly, agricultural workers and fishermen—it assessed the effectiveness of its digital skills policies in relation to the people who need it most.

The findings quickly drove innovation: by 2006, all rural communities with at least 50 households were linked to the Internet. Internet usage doubled in underprivileged communities in four years.

The Index is not a static document, and can be changed to reflect technological advancements. After smartphones and tablets became more ubiquitous, the Index was updated in 2016 to reflect how we access technology.

Be inclusive

It’s easier to prioritise those who pick up digital skills quickly. But Egypt is prioritising social justice when running its digital skills training.

Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and IT provides a mainstream lifelong learning program for people aiming to find work. The UN’s ICT agency lauds the project as a “milestone” in Egypt’s approach to educating its disabled people, integrating the learning of both disabled and non-disabled people for the first time.

Rather than ostracising people with specific learning requirements from digital skills training, their needs are considered side-by-side with those without disabilities.

The initiative includes more than classes. Some 55 community centres across Egypt have been transformed into accessible environments, by equipping them with computer labs with assistive technologies for different types of disabilities.

Due to its success, the project later became part of a Presidential Initiative. It is now targeted to adapt 200 centres to support disabled people by 2020.

Pair up with shared public spaces

Shared public spaces, like libraries and town halls, face challenges of their own when it comes to the digital age, as services traditionally carried out by people become online-only.

Rather than have an identity crisis, shared public spaces can become sites for digital skills training, as Kenya learnt following a pilot to provide digital skills training in its libraries.

The Communications Authority of Kenya paired up with local and international organisations and the Kenya National Library Service to shift what it means to go to the library.

No longer just reading rooms, all 61 Kenyan libraries in the library service network are now a place to complete a digital course in web design or learn how to write your CV. Librarians become IT teachers, empowering their visitors to learn new skills.

There’s still work to be done. The Good Foundation, a partner in the initiative, has argued that the content needed to be better tailored to a Kenyan audience, and that further outreach could be done to appeal to those who don’t currently visit libraries.

Democratise textbooks

Teachers use the Internet across the world for help planning lessons or finding resources. But textbooks remain expensive. One initiative in the Punjab is working to democratise these books.

eLearn is the official home for digital learning in the Punjab. Spearheaded by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), in collaboration with the School Education Department (SED), the service gives teachers and students access to STEM educational resources, at no charge.

Available on the web or as an app, the resource boasts over 13,000 video lectures and 30 textbooks for a variety of grades. Lectures have been translated to help learning in local, regional languages. The resource also contains detailed lesson plans and assessment modules to assist teachers in the classroom.

Teachers can also contribute their own content to the platform, and chat with other teachers on the platform’s discussion thread.

The platform is now producing its own in-house video animations, and enhancing its assessments.

Tell a story

Engaging young people in digital skills is often considered a “no-brainer”, as young people have often grown up with technology integrated into their lives.

But Greece has the lowest number of ICT professionals in the EU, and the Greek government are working to nurture tomorrow’s workforce by combining storytelling with IT.

As part of its national initiative for the Action Plan for Digital Skills, the Greek government held a two-day educational workshop combining ancient Greek history and 3D printing.

The children recreated toys from history — like spinning tops, yoyos and knucklebones — not by clay modelling but by 3D printing. The initiative encouraged understanding of the Greek national story, seamlessly integrated with the newest technologies.

The unusual initiative has a premise grounded in understanding; by starting at a young age, and rooting the tech in the nation’s story, the workshop opens the door for the next set of engineers. — Emma Sisk 

[Photo credit: Unsplash]

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