Could open web close the skills gap?

Open standards could help pave the way towards educating children to be the next stewards of the open web

Open standards could help pave the way towards educating children to be the next stewards of the open web, according to software community Mozilla.

Senior director of the mentor community at Mozilla Chris Lawrence, who was at the recent MozFest 2014 event promoting digital literacy and open standards, told Computer Weekly educating people on how to use the web can avoid larger organisations trying to take control of standards in the future.

“When we talk about web and digital literacy, we’re talking about empowering people to understand and to make the right choices about the digital technology they use,” he said.

According to Lawrence, it’s as important to learn about the digital culture of the web as it is about coding and how the web works, as the web becomes more of a social space for the younger generation, as opposed to just somewhere to learn.

Reflecting how children are becoming more technology-savvy, recent research by AVG showed children aged between three and five are more able to play a computer game or navigate a smartphone than tie their shoes or swim unaided.

The concept of open web could be a big contributor towards education by promoting freedom of expression and free thought, said Lawrence, who added that as with society, education can be used to ensure the internet can become self-policing.  

“When we have good educational systems they are open, they are participatory and they adhere to and understand we all learn differently,” he said.

“I view the teaching of digital and web literacy, as well as the need for teaching the open web, in the same way – if we want in 10, 15, or 20 years for the public to be the stewards of the open web then why not start with those aged between seven and 15?”

Digital skills shortage

The European Commission (EC) warned in July 2014 a lack of basic coding skills could result in Europe facing a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020.

However, Lawrence explained an open platform helps to promote innovation as well as an open playing field for entrepreneurs.

“Increasing digital literacy is a very holistic approach to how we grow the workforce in these jobs, whether they be coding in IT or other aspects of the technology sector,” he said.

Lawrence explained teaching digital skills can be used not only to grow more IT professionals and engineers, but also to promote how to properly use the web for empowerment and learning.

“With the younger generation, we want to ensure they know and understand how the technology works and they actually have the power to consume technology. It’s not television 2.0 – it’s a space where they can make and build upon,” he said.

As standards become more stringent, it’s become increasingly hard to understand how technologies such as smartphones work. However, helping children – as well as adults – to creatively understand how things work can prevent digital illiteracy, explained Lawrence.

“We don’t want to lose that mentality – we don’t want our devices controlling us, we want to be in control of our devices,” he said.

“We’re trying to take that same educational philosophy into tech and we find that kids and youths love to be empowered that way.”

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