Digital Literacy: Why It Matters for Students in Canada

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© Kathleen Espiritu

Digital devices have become a part of almost every aspect of our lives. Our smartphones wake us up and tell us the news. GPS guides us to our next appointment. Laptops connect us with a world of information and enable us to work (and play) anywhere, anytime.

Beyond personal convenience and leisure, our economy has also come to count on digital technologies. Every sector has been affected, from retail to finance, agriculture to manufacturing, medicine to skilled trades.

Digital Literacy is the Future of Education

That’s why digital literacy is a critical part of today’s education. Like us, our children live in a digital world. While reading, math, and science remain at the core of education, students must also be prepared to use technology safely and effectively to support their learning and ultimately fuel their lives and careers. Like anything else, it is a skill that needs to be taught.

Digital literacy in the classroom refers to the knowledge and ability to use a broad range of digital tools, such as tablets, computers, search engines, and education software, to explore content, collaborate with other students, and create digital content. Most adults slowly learned what they now know about technology as new tools were introduced and developed. Younger students are born into a world where all these tools already exist and need guidance on harnessing them to their fullest potential.

The years of the COVID-19 pandemic showed us how effectively digital technology could be integrated into teaching and learning practices. Although in-person schooling is back in full swing for most students, digital technology continues to play a key role in the classroom, and for good reason.

Digital Literacy Supports Learning

Among the many benefits of digital literacy, it can:

  • Foster essential skills like research, critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity
  • Improve writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills
    Provide access to endless amounts of information
  • Ensure that students know how to evaluate digital content and stay safe online
  • Help students engage and have fun with their schoolwork
  • Create opportunities for collaboration and social interaction
    Promote respect for other perspectives by exposing students to a world of information and ideas that differ from their own
  • Improve digital equity by ensuring all students have basic digital skills even if they don’t have the same access at home
  • Ensure students are aware of their responsibility to communicate information ethically online

What Digital Literacy in Education Looks Like:

Ontario’s Ministry of Education outlines skills and attitudes that constitute digital literacy. Digitally literate students can:

  • Select and use appropriate digital tools to collaborate, communicate, create, innovate, and solve problems
  • Manage the use of technology to support mental health and well-being
  • Use digital tools to define and plan data searches, collect data, and identify relevant data sets
  • Demonstrate a willingness and confidence to explore and use new or unfamiliar digital tools and emerging technologies
  • Manage their digital footprint by engaging in social media and online communities respectfully, inclusively, safely, legally, and ethically
  • Analyze and understand the impact of technological advancements on society and society’s role in the evolution of technology

Let’s Talk Science has been producing digital literacy resources to support educators and students for many years and has developed the following expectations of digital literacy based on grade level to help guide their development:

  • For Primary students (Kindergarten to Grade 3): Ability to use digital technology and tools to solve problems.
  • For Elementary and Middle School students (Grades 3 to 8): Ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology to solve problems for a smarter world.
  • For Secondary students (Grades 9 to 12): Ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology to solve problems, underpinned by the ability to critically understand digital content and tools for a knowledge-based society.

Computational Thinking is a way to Apply Digital Literacy

Let’s Talk Science has several resources to help parents and teachers think about digital literacy broadly, including artificial intelligence, computer programming, blockchain, and computational thinking.

Computational thinking (CT) is a way of breaking down and solving problems, designing systems, and contributing through making. An intersection of CT and Digital Literacy is when you want to use a computer to help solve a complex problem, but first, the problem must be broken down into simple steps that a computer can understand and execute.

CT enables students to take a complex problem, understand it deeply, and develop possible solutions. CT hones a variety of skills, including logical thinking, gathering, organizing, and analyzing data, creating algorithms, and testing and evaluation.

Beyond the Classroom

Digital literacy and computational thinking have a role in every classroom, from kindergarten to Grade 12 and beyond. They are also, of course, essential skills in the world of work.

In addition to revolutionizing education, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of video conferencing platforms, collaboration tools, e-commerce, and online shopping. Digital innovation has enhanced healthcare through remote doctor appointments, automatic prescription renewals, and improved record keeping. Important progress is made daily in robotics, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence. According to research by The Information and Communications Technology Council, more than 2.2 million Canadians will be working in digital industries by 2025. Canada has the potential to be a strong leader in the digital world economy. Programs like the Let’s Talk Careers Competition help make students more aware of the many career paths they could follow and have a strong representation of careers in the digital and technology space.

The rate of progress continues to accelerate. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they have a crystal ball to predict our digital future! Digital literacy skills and knowledge will equip your child to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape both in school and beyond.

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Let’s Talk Science is committed to preparing youth in Canada for future careers and citizenship demands in a rapidly changing world.

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