Recently in Adult Education, the “shot heard round the world” was that the GED test was going the way of the computer. Many held their breath, wringing their hands and pondering how and why it made sense. (Note: Corrections programs have a real legitimate concern as to the logistics of how this is going to work) For decades the test had been paper-based, and we all know that a lot of people don’t know how to use computers or do not type proficiently…
…or so the thought process went.
Recently, my friend pointed out on this blog that more people are on computers than we think. I will set aside my judgment on whether or not everyone is computer savvy for a moment and even grant you that many are not. In fact, this post assumes that too many are computer illiterate. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to use a computer, just like someone who is illiterate can probably still hold a decent conversation. However, the question we should all be asking ourselves is, “What can someone do, today, without computer literacy?” Let’s get a little closer to home:
How good is our literacy program if it does not include digital literacy? If someone learns English but not the ability to navigate the web using that language, what have we given them? How good is our Career Pathways system if we are not empowering every student to gain digital competency that will translate to any career path?
“It’s the Economy, Stupid” -Bill Clinton
I know one thing. Employers (the ones with jobs) are not, on average, behind the times. They understand that technology = speed = efficiency = competitive advantage. Competitive advantage means you survive, thrive, and become a fixture, not a novelty in a community. There was a time that to get work meant you had to have air in your lungs and a pulse. Those days are long gone, especially in the Sunshine State. As we progress deeper into the 21st century, digital competency is the new basic skill. Just like businesses need a competitive advantage that starts with an even playing field, today’s prospective employee needs an even playing field so that their career path is not aborted prematurely.
That means skills: digital skills.
What’s the Career Pathway’s connection? It’s quite simple. A Career Pathways model–be it via family literacy, GED classes or ESOL at it’s genesis–that leaves out technology is a “pathway to nowhere”. A pathway to nowhere means a student getting a credential that means nothing. It means a student learning something that does not translate into a feeling of “making it” in life. Why? Because in their case, there is literally a digital divide between what they know and what they can do. Digital literacy (technology) is about closing that gap by giving our students a leg up in the 21st century jobs marketplace.
What’s at stake is twofold. For one, we are playing catch up with the rest of the world. While we are wringing our hands about computer-based GED tests, somebody is doing this:
Instead of lamenting what we can’t do, we must start preparing for what we will have to do.
Second, it’s about what is best for our students. They come to us, many times, because they want a new chance at life. Because they lack certain basic skills, life is always lived somewhere between understanding and confusion. They come to us to gain those skills, and we ask them to dream again and create a plan for their career path–a path to their success. However, if digital literacy gained through engaging relevant technology is not a part of our process, we do them a great disservice.
We set them up for failure and frustration, again.
I think that answers the “why” question. What do you think?