It’s World Computer Literacy Day

A couple of days ago I commented on Computer Security Day. Today we’re back to computers, but this time the issue is way more fundamental – today is World Computer Literacy Day.

Celebrated for the first time in 2001 in India, the day has since expanded to an international initiative. Computer literacy relates to the ability to comfortably use computers and related information and communications technologies (ICTs). Some of the key issues impacting computer literacy include basic access to ICT, and the ability to use these technologies in your own language.

Promoting computer literacy and connectivity in the developing world is critical in creating economic opportunities for all.(© All Rights Reserved)
Promoting computer literacy and connectivity in the developing world is critical in creating economic opportunities for all.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In an attempt to raise awareness about the plight of those who are not privileged enough to have access to computers, Irish charity organisation Camara Education has launched a challenge to those of us for whom ICT is a part of everyday life, to go without technology for 24 hours. Through this initiative, known as ‘Techfast’, they hope to highlight the digital divide that still exists in the world today.

Being connected always and everywhere, it is easy to forget that the global digital village we are part of really isn’t that global at all, with ICT and computer literacy very much concentrated in developed countries. While we get treated to high speed, low cost Internet, the developing world continues to lag further and further behind.

There are positive examples in the developing world where the digital divide is actively being addressed. While countries like Ethiopia and Zambia still have less than 2% of the population connected to the Internet, the situation in Kenya, for example, looks very different – from 2009 to 2010 the percentage of Internet users have increased from 10% to 26%. A massive digital boom indeed, and one which is reported to also be providing an economic boost to the country.

While I often wonder whether 24/7 connectivity is a blessing or a curse, the fact of the matter is that, to participate in the global economy, connectivity and computer literacy is of paramount importance.

While you’re comfortably browsing through your blog roll on your high-speed internet connection, spare a thought on World Computer Literacy Day for those who are not as technologically privileged.

Luv or h8 it, txting is gr8 4 literacy

Today, 8 September, is International Literacy Day – the day the world’s attention is focused on literacy as one of the fundamental human rights, and the foundation of all learning. In the words of UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, “Education brings sustainability to all the development goals, and literacy is the foundation of all learning. It provides individuals with the skills to understand the world and shape it, to participate in democratic processes and have a voice, and also to strengthen their cultural identity.”

In the information age, literacy is a more critical basic requirement than ever. The literacy landscape is also rapidly changing – children’s reading and writing experience is changing from a paper-based to a digital context. Many kids’ primary exposure to the written word is through texting – SMS, instant messaging and Twitter – thanks to the global proliferation of mobile phones and internet connectivity.

Texting teens may have a literacy edge over their non-texting peers.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Texting has long been blamed for being one of the main causes of decreasing linguistic savvy among children and teenagers, with parents and teachers fearing that texting shorthand (incorporating linguistic shortcuts, weak grammar and little or no punctuation) was destroying their ability to write ‘properly’.

While it’s true that these teenage ‘textisms’ drive most people over thirty up the proverbial wall, it may in fact not be quite the scourge it was thought to be at the turn of the century. New research is showing that, while it may not promote perfect grammar, text messaging may in fact have a positive impact on basic literacy. For one thing, there is no arguing that it is increasing young people’s level of interaction with the written word. Instead of speaking, kids are very likely to communicate via text messages, even when they are in the same physical location.

As reported in an article in the Telegraph, researchers are suggesting that using a mobile phone can boost children’s spelling abilities. In a research project at Coventry University in the UK, 114 children aged 9-10, who were not already mobile phone users, were split into two groups. Half were given handsets and encouraged to text often, while the control group remained without mobile phones. After 10 weeks, both groups were subjected to a series of reading, spelling and phonological awareness tests, and the researchers claimed they found that texting made a significant positive contribution to to children’s spelling development during the study. According to Professor Clare Wood of the university’s Psychology Department, they also found “no evidence that children’s language play when using mobile phones is damaging literacy development.”

Similar sentiments have been expressed by Professor David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University, who says it’s an urban myth that text speech are taking over childrens’ regular writing. He considers it “merely another way to use language”, and suggests that the use of textisms and shortcuts is exaggerated: “If you collected a huge pile of messages and counted all the whole words and the abbreviations, the fact of the matter is that less than 10% would be shortened.”

So, while language may be changing in the age of texting, the undeniably positive part is that it is exposing children to the written word, in both the traditional and the abbreviated sense.

And that, as they say in the classics, is gr8 4 literacy.