Internet access and use is growing across the Caribbean. However, digital literacy versus digital illiteracy is now where the digital divide exists.
In this day and age, it is a given the people are computer literate – to the point it is no longer being specified as a requirement when applying for a job. However, there is growing emphasis on ‘digital literacy’, which unfortunately and to some degree, is beginning used interchangeably with term computer literacy.
To be clear, computer literacy generally means having sufficient understanding of “basic hardware and software (and now Internet) concepts that allows one to use personal computers for data entry, word processing, spreadsheets, and electronic communications” (Source: Business Dictionary). In other words, someone who is computer literate would know how to use a computing device, popular and essential software applications, along with the Internet.
What is digital literacy?
Although it is easy to think of digital literacy as being almost identical to computer literacy, but now including smartphones, tablets and other digital devices, in fact, it compasses considerably more. There does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of digital literacy, but many agree that it spans areas including, but not limited to:
- network literacy
- information literacy
- social media literacy
- practical computer skills (both hardware skills and software skills
- possessing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours with respect to networked devices, and
- understanding and practising the sociological, political, cultural, economic and behavioural aspects of digital technologies.
Unfortunately, it is generally assumed that once people have access to the digital devices and to the Internet, and can use those devices, they are digitally literate. However, being able to browse the Internet, check your emails, access social media, and shop online, does not automatically mean an individual is digitally literate – consistent with all of the skills outlined above.
Digital literacy and Internet inclusion
Essentially, and when digital literacy exists, individuals possess the tools, skills and attitude to harness (and to properly navigate) technology. Currently, although access to technology is high in Caribbean, and Internet use is growing, there is still a considerable digital divide, with regard to Internet inclusion.
Again, we are not talking about just having Internet access, but people being able to astutely and effectively use digital tools to facilitate or improve their circumstances. It is along those lines that the distinction between the ‘haves’ – those who possess those shills and capabilities – and the ‘have-nots’, is becoming increasingly evident, and requires attention.
Who is at risk of digital illiteracy and what can be done?
Thanks to the still increasing integration of digital tools in the Caribbean classroom, the current cohort of primary and secondary school students may ultimately achieve a high level of digital literacy. The concern is thus for those who are outside of the school system, and are not properly equipped to fully use today’s technology, especially the Internet.
To remedy this deficiency, and similar to what has been done in the past, comprehensive programmes geared towards improving digital literacy ought to be made widely available. As a society, the more our citizens can innovate and help themselves by using the tools, especially the digital tools, at their disposal, the more likely that we, as individuals, and as a society as a whole will benefit from the digital transformation that has been occurring and will continue well into the future.