My reading the past few weeks has included literature that takes a critical look at the imperative to support digital literacy. While I am still firmly in the camp supporting policy and programming that ensures digital literacy skill development for low-skilled adults, especially immigrants and refugees, I think it’s worth acknowledging the importance of a critical stance.
Rantala and Suoranta, writing in Lankshear and Knoble (2008) describe the development of digital literacy policy in the EU, noting that such policy is firmly rooted in language connecting the digital imperative to movement toward a knowledge-based economy. Neoliberal justification for adult and lifelong learning is not new; most programs in the US are funded by legislation called the “Workforce Opportunities and Innovation Act” and the most influential research on which adult learning policy around the world is based comes from the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), note that “E” does not stand for education. One such body of research, PIAAC, surveyed over 100,000 employed adults in over 20 OECD countries. The results showed alarming low skill proficiency with respect to technology for persons who had low literacy, low education, and low income; however, it needs to be noted that these low scores did not include low-skilled unemployed or a huge percentage of immigrants and refugees who would have presumably scored even lower.
So what’s my concern? I’m wondering about the efficacy of policy regarding technology skill development framed by a neoliberal lens and supported by research undertaken to explore skills of employed adults. What issues are hidden through such a lens? How might resulting policy fail to address needs of those adults who most need digital literacy instruction and academic skill programming that incorporates useful technologies? These questions have implication for further inquiry and setting realistic goals (both education and economic). Framing adult learning opportunities from the perspective of workforce development is acceptable as long as it does not delimit the audience of learners AND as long as the research that supports such programming includes those most in need of formal education as participants.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). Digital literacies: Concepts, origins, and practices. (M. Lankshear, C., & Knobel, Ed.). New York: Peter Lang.