Digital illiterates


September 2016, article published originally in El Periódico de Catalunya

Digital illiterates

“Our educational system is a catastrophe.” I didn’t say that. It was said by Luis Gaticano, professor at the prestigious London School of Economics and previously member of the faculty of the University of Chicago, one of the institutions with the most Nobel Prizes in the world.

Garicano explains that in Spain, one in four students does not finish secondary education, and one in three repeats a school year before the age of 15, a heavy cost for public coffers. More hair-raising statistics: half of the population doesn’t know a foreign language and almost a third fails in reading comprehension and math. He maintains that the future of the country depends upon long-term support for an educational system that allows the integration of the State into the economy of knowledge, research, and development. But having a qualified and trained population is not spoken of at all, or very little, and it is essential for the enrichment of citizens and, thus, the country.

I’ve been speaking for years about digital immigrants versus digital natives: you know, those who understand the opportunities that the online environment has to offer compared to those who deny them, ignore them, or simply don’t understand them. I always explain in lectures at IESE with executives, entrepreneurs, and other usual suspects that being native doesn’t depend on your biological age, the age on your ID card. Belonging to one category or the other is based on your attitude to the channel, the medium, or advertising method, depending on how one chooses to see it.

Whether we’re natives or immigrants, we adults are by definition digital illiterates

Obviously, younger generations grow up much more closely with technology than we did. And the question that arises is: how to educate the children of a country if we adults don’t know the medium in depth or have clear usage rules, not even for ourselves? Furthermore, added to this is an unstoppable evolution at an exponential rate of change.

Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. You help people improve, grow, reach their potential. Here we have fantastic teachers of compulsory education. But they need to be up-to-date. And in their continuing education must be included how to teach school girls and boys the use of technologies, because this is an essential part of the knowledge culture.

It isn’t easy. The challenge is to understand what we want to incorporate into the curriculum. The problem is that we adults do not have a clear idea. Aside from whether we’re natives or immigrants, adults are by definition digital illiterates. Somebody is going to have to take the plunge. Our politicians (I’m afraid) are the ones who will have to act quickly and collectively. And we have seen, for a long time, how education is not a top-priority subject for the different political parties, save one, or by extension, the media. Alea jacta est?


Picture of an old class, by Skitterphoto