Digital divide: Connectivity and the different dimensions of literacy

6/2/2008 | Christian Kreutz

During last days I have been going trough different ICT4D papers, and then again I have been astonished to see that their focus was mainly limited to the issue of access although access to a computer or Internet is just a first step and does not mean you can fully engage in the web. Some time ago, while introducing a laptop to a relative, I observed how it is to move a mouse for the first time and how much more their is to learn and the complex steps that have to be taken before you master to browse the web and send your first email. There are many steps to be taken to use ICT as a mean for more.

The UNESCO has an interesting paper called Understanding information literacy: a primer, which highlights very accurate those different dimension for the higher goal of life long learning.

What is Information Literacy, where did it come from, how is it related to lifelong learning, and to other kinds of literacies, and why is it critically important to every nation, its institutions, and its citizens, in order for them to perform competitively and productively in a Digital World and a 21st Century Global Information Society, as well as to promote greater social inclusion, and freedom of expression and opinion

I summarized here the different steps of literacy necessary to fully leverage the potential of the Internet:

  1. Basic or core literacies This term still applies to the core or foundation literacies of learning how to read, how to write and how to perform simple numeracy tasks necessary in everyday life.
  2. Computer literacy Computer literacy means the efficient ability to know how to use and operate computers as information processing machine _ a. Hardware Literacy Hardware literacy refers to the set of basic operations you need to know in order to use a computer such as a Personal Computer (PC) or Laptop, or perhaps a combination hand-held device such as BlackBerry efficiently. _ b. Software Literacy. Software literacy refers to the “invisible” set of general-purpose procedures and instructions that the computer or telecommunications hardware requires in order to perform its functions properly.
  3. Media Literacy Media literacy embraces everything from having the knowledge needed to use old and new media technology to having a critical relationship to media content in a time when the media constitute one of the most powerful forces in society.
  4. Distance Education and E-Learning
  5. Cultural Literacy Cultural literacy means a knowledge of, and understanding, of how a country’s, a religion’s, an ethnic group’s, or a tribe’s traditions, beliefs, symbols and icons, celebrations, and traditional means of communication (e.g. orally) impact the creation, storage, handling, communication, preservation and archiving of data, information and knowledge, using technologies.
  6. Information Literacy ... empower people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals.

Going through these steps one can imagine how long it can take and how much more there is to come once you have access. It is quite obvious that those steps or dimension for knowledge sharing and learning are an essential benefit getting through information and communication technology. But ICT's are only means and access itself does not necessarily get you anywhere. This shows that the real challenge is to help people acquire these literacy skills. For example think back how long it took you to understand the basis and logic of an operation system, its folders, files etc.

Luckily, software is nowadays developed more intuitively as the "beta mode" websites show. Also, hardware is getting more user centered as the "iphone" shows. One imagine then the time it can take to engage through the web, to interact and collaborate. Social media opens new venues to engage in many of the above listed literacy. But all those nice fancy tools out there on the web have still to prove that they really improve literacy for all.