Computer Illiteracy: A Global Disadvantage?

Is code the new currency? According to a recent report, the techies at VentureBeat would have us think so, claiming that in a world increasingly dependent on technology, most people don’t have a clue how these devices really work. And this lack of basic computer knowledge creates a population of “tech illiterates” unable to compete on the fast track of global innovation.

“Program or Be Programmed” states the bold infographic on VentureBeat’s blog page, claiming that everyone should know a minimal amount of at least one of the many computer languages and code formats that drive the computers, smart phones and other devices that run our daily lives. People who don’t understand how to repair these things when they fail, or to upgrade them for better efficiency, are therefore dependent on people who do, giving up significant amounts of control over things as trivial as programming an iPhone – or as major as fixing a system-wide computer glitch at work.

While the “code for all” movement may not catch on, it does point up a key issue. Innovations in technology drive the information-hungry global economy, and a country that isn’t able to keep up with those innovations is put at an immediate disadvantage. Although salaries for jobs in information technology outpace those of many other jobs in both the private and public sectors, there aren’t always many takers for these jobs – so, specialists may have to be imported from other countries to fill the gap.

Many of these advanced IT jobs require advanced degrees in areas such as software development, computer sciences and information design – degrees that are may be financially out of reach for promising, but lower-income, students. And although many of the pioneers in computer technology were women, female programmers are a small minority in today’s technology industries.

To fill the technology gap, a number of online computer resource sites are offering tutorials and bootcamps on the basic concepts of HTML, Javascript and other variations of code. Short courses and certificates help workers add coding skills to their resumes, and some schools are introducing coding concepts in the middle grades or below.

The results of these experiments remain to be seen. And, certainly, not everyone should be expected to be a programmer. But US students already lag behind students from most other developed countries of the world in key areas such as science and math. As technology makes more and more inroads into the structure of daily life, people who don’t understand how that technology works – in at least a basic way – can be at a distinct disadvantage.

Jason Hartman favors recent proposed changes to the US education system could change that. In a world dominated by innovations in technology, code could be the currency that opens doors to opportunities for individuals, as well as to a renewed competitiveness for the country. (Top image: Flickr/Don Fulano)

The American Monetary Association Team

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