The economics of digital literacy: some questions

There is a lot of talk about digital literacy and its importance in education. Maybe I am naive, but I really can’t see how it is any different from professional literacy. In other words the language and motivation for digital literacy is largely about employability. Don’t do this online or you will never get a job. Don’t do that online or you will get sacked. I should say up front that I have absolutely no problem with teaching people to be responsible for their actions and that we should be aware of the choices we make and their ramifications. I do, however, have a few questions which I haven’t heard much about. These things worry me if digital literacy dialogue continues along this narrow way of understanding.

First question: Is it ok to teach digital literacy in early childhood if the reason for teaching it is to ensure employabilty? Again I’m not saying don’t teach it. I’m saying we need to think about why we teach it. If employability is the motivation for teaching digital literacy to the very young, the logical leap is that we are effectively asking children to start applying for tertiary study (or college) in kindergarten. There is something obscene about this. I hate that Year 9s are often being expected to make semi-firm decisions about their futures and senior high school is still more pressure than anything afterwards in education. Is employment-based digital literacy starting them thinking about mortgages earlier?

Second question: Is there any difference between a business not employing someone for their Facebook photo and refusing employment to someone because they are a woman? We hear a lot about the responsibility of individuals in the realm of digital literacy but we rarely hear about the responsibility of the companies. Labour laws are designed to protect us from unfair dismissal and employment discrimination. Should they be extended to our online private lives? Should we at least have the discussion?

Maybe these questions are simplistic but I would appreciate some critical debate about the points I have brought up. Thoughts?


One thought on “The economics of digital literacy: some questions

  1. We need to teach digital literacy because there is this school of thought which says what people say online will effect their future employment prospects. We need to teach it, not to ensure our kids’ employ-ability, but so they can make their own informed choices. So they can conduct them selves online on their own terms. So they can set their own boundaries and can recognise when an employer oversteps the mark.
    I personally am not okay with employers reusing to employ someone because of a facebook picture, but I am okay with someone getting fired over a hateful tweet that goes viral. The more we teach digital literacy, the more the the “rules” governing employer to employee online interactions will be defined. Maybe I won’t agree with the rules, but all we can do is give our kids the tools and trust them to make the right decisions


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