Digital Literacy, Canadian Students, and the Age of Disruption

We are now in the digital age. Children in elementary school have cell-phones, the majority of television is viewed online, and people order their restaurant meals from a tablet at the table. Alongside the social sphere, the workforce is evolving. Digital competencies are becoming increasingly more important, and not just for traditionally “technological” jobs. According to the Royal Bank of Canada’s report on the Coming Skills Revolution; “Humans Wanted” (2018), more than 25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the next decade. It is expected that 2.4 million jobs will be added to the Canadian workforce over the next four years. Our post-secondary students are living through this age of disruption, and there are plenty of opportunities to prepare them for what awaits.

Another finding by the Royal Bank of Canada, is that our education system is presently inadequately prepared to help students prepare for the digital economy. According to the Brookfield Institute’s report; Levelling Up – The Quest for Digital Literacy (2018), we are seeing an influx of post-secondary students turning to third-party organizations to train them in core digital skills and competencies. Upon further investigation, it can be seen that many students are turning to these organizations during their time away from the academic year. It is happening during the winter break, reading week, or the summer months. This pattern of enrollment in third-party program suggests that post-secondary students are turning elsewhere to receive the skills that they are not receiving at their university or college.

What does this mean? Our post-secondary students are hurtling towards a technological revolution that will disrupt millions of jobs, and create twice as many new ones. Our students are coming to the realization that they are going to need to possess a certain level of digital competencies to navigate the new skills economy that awaits them. The broader education system, elementary to post-secondary, has an opportunity to evolve in order to adequately prepare Canadian youth for the future. It is not to be said that digital education need replace our traditional forms of learning. Interpersonal skills, critical thinking, literacy, and writing skills, are incredibly important and will remain essential for all students. What is essential, however, is that digital literacy is layered alongside and within these skills, to prepare our students to be productive and innovative in the digital age.

We currently do not know where we stand. Students are entering post-secondary with varying degrees of digital literacy, and the variation only increases as post-secondary graduates enter the workforce. An opportunity lies in evaluating where our students are in their ability to interact with technological tools, because only then can a strategy for the future of digital education really be developed. Computer science and engineering students are not the only demographics that will require digital skills. In the age of digital disruption, digital literacy in one form or another will likely become a prerequisite for any job. Students currently in an education program will be expected to utilize online platforms and specified software when instructing the next generation of students. This is merely one example, and the list goes on. It is a matter of introducing Canadian youth to a strong digital foundation early in the education system. It means providing secondary and post-secondary students with opportunities and courses to further develop their digital capabilities – regardless of their field of study. All students, in all programs, will be required to be digitally literate.

In the words of the Royal Bank of Canada’s report,“Humans Wanted” (2018), “Digital is non-negotiable”. The era is upon us, and the current post-secondary students will be the ones to enter the workforce during a massive technological revolution. It does not need to be something our students fear, but rather something they may be prepared for and face head-on.