The Digital Literacy Divide: From access to literacy?

The Digital Literacy Divide: From access to literacy?

Canadian youth must have access to an “updated” education and training to join a rapidly changing labour market. For most, that means being digitally literate.
Illustration of computer monitor surrounded by productivity symbols on green background.
April 9, 2018
Print Page

Telephones, Divides & A Brighter Future

Less than 150 years ago, Alexander Graham Bell unveiled his patented telephone to the world. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, telephones could be found in affluent homes across North America. Like any new technology, having a telephone at home was a luxury only afforded by the wealthy. Yet, within decades, millions of people had telephones in their homes and today it seems unfathomable not to have a telephone, whether it is plugged into the wall or tucked in a back pocket.

The telephone bridged the divide between the rich and the poor in a variety of ways; it was a tool just as much for the literate as the illiterate. It blew up social spheres that kept the classes separated. It made communication over long distances take seconds and minutes instead of weeks if not months.

But as the telephone grew in popularity and the technology improved, it eliminated a number of vocations like messengers, telegraphers and eventually, switchboard operators. These were good, solid jobs for life that vanished in a matter of years.

If this sounds eerily similar to what is taking place in today’s world with the advent of the computer and internet-enabled technologies, that’s because it is.

Research undertaken by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University indicates that within the next two decades, 42 percent of Canadian jobs are at risk of being impacted by automation. At the same time, technology is becoming pervasive, creating new opportunities and changing the nature of work across industries.

So how can we make sure our workforce—particularly our young people—takes full advantage of the opportunities available to them?

Canadian youth must have access to an “updated” education and training to join a rapidly changing labour market. For most, that means being digitally literate. For some, that means possessing the ability to read and write in coding languages, or effectively use digital devices. For all, it means having the skills to think critically and solve problems creatively using technology.


Training Youth & Partnering with Communities

While we await updated public education curricula that will equitably train all youth on this priority for participation in the modern economy, it is critical that today’s youth – particularly those routinely underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields – are offered opportunities to participate in digital literacy training.

My family is proud to invest in a new project led by the Brookfield Institute that is aiming to build a scalable model for delivering digital literacy training to those young people aged 12-15 who need it the most; and this includes young women. The project is a unique partnership of community agencies, academic institutions, businesses, and the Government of Ontario, organizations with a shared interest in investing in the success of young people.

We are starting small with six programs across Ontario, testing, evaluating and improving the program.

Once refined, it is a program that can be scaled and replicated across the country, and that, by definition, is a good return on the initial investment.

It will be up to policymakers to take up the mantle and make digital skills training a priority in our schools. Only when all students have access to the right tools to build their future careers will our shifting economy flourish.

For media enquiries, please contact Nina Rafeek Dow, Marketing + Communications Specialist at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.