Blogger and teacher Marc Scott laments the growing epidemic of ‘computer illiteracy’, with some anecdotal examples.
The truth is, kids can’t use general purpose computers, and neither can most of the adults I know. There’s a narrow range of individuals whom, at school, I consider technically savvy. These are roughly the thirty to fifty year-olds that have owned a computer for much of their adult lives. There are, of course, exceptions amongst the staff and students. There are always one or two kids in every cohort that have already picked up programming or web development or can strip a computer down to the bare bones, replace a motherboard, and reinstall an operating system.
Not really knowing how to use a computer is deemed acceptable if you’re twenty-five or over. It’s something that some people are even perversely proud of, but the prevailing wisdom is that all under eighteens are technical wizards, and this is simply not true. They can use some software, particularly web-apps. They know how to use Facebook and Twitter. They can use YouTube and Pinterest. They even know how to use Word and PowerPoint and Excel. Ask them to reinstall an operating system and they’re lost. Ask them to upgrade their hard-drive or their RAM and they break out in a cold sweat. Ask them what https means and why it is important and they’ll look at you as if you’re speaking Klingon.
Marc is from the UK, which ranks about the same as the US in technological literacy, which below South Korea and the Nordic countries:
Surprisingly, in spite of its reputation as being technologically advanced, Japan has the largest percentage of ‘illiterates’ of all countries.
He’s maybe being too hard though. ‘Computer literacy’ and ‘knowing how to use technology’ are very broad concepts, and understanding how a computer or a website works vs. using a computer or a website are, of course, very distinct. Computers and software are very complicated; there’re thousands of components involved with either, which is a lot for a young person to learn. The problem may have more to do with and inability to debug hardware and software, than an inability to use a computer. Because computers and software are so complicated, with thousands of things that can go wrong, debugging is an invaluable skill. Instead of requiring young people anticipate and fix every conceivable problem (which is impossible), instead teach them how to find solutions to problems, such as by teaching them how to perform effective Google searches, how to read a tutorial, and how to to perform a search of driver components, etc. Learning how to find solutions will provide them with the means to fix most problems.
Just a couple weeks ago I had a problem with the laptop battery: it would not charge despite plugging it in. After much Googling, I learned that I had to ‘recalibrate’ the battery, and to do this I had to follow a precise set of instructions which included deleting some files and removing the battery. Without the tutorial and understanding how to read it, I would have never solved the problem on my own, despite my many years using computers.
But also, it’s not that kids can’t use computers well…they also can’t do many other things well…after all, they are kids. They probably need to spend many more years using computers before they will get better.