Cleveland tackles digital literacy

The City of Cleveland is addressing the issue of digital literacy. The program will offer training and certification to 30,000 low income workers over the next five years. This is an important program; so many areas of the country bemoan the loss of manufacturing jobs and the lack of opportunity for unemployed workers but fail to adjust economic development spending and job training programs to the realities of the global Knowledge Economy.

Although I applaud Cleveland for diving in, I would prefer to see some changes in their approach.

The first is the term "digital literacy" itself. It's a lousy phrase that does not mean anything--are we saying we should be literate about digits? The word "literate" traditionally refers to reading and writing skills, so why are we trying to redefine it to mean something else--and what is that something? I prefer the phrase "technological competency," which means we are able to use technology skillfully to perform every day tasks.

Cleveland has partnered with two private sector companies, which is fine, except that the city is using these firms' definitions and certification. I'd like to see Cleveland work collaboratively with some other interested regions/towns/cities to develop an open source definition of technological competency, and partner with some nonprofit educational institutions to develop an open source certification process.

The training and certification can still be performed by private sector firms, but now the common good is driving the process, rather than profit motive (note that I'm a businessman and so am not opposed to profits--it's just that I also believe communities, if they are spending tax dollars, need to do so in a way that accrues the most good to the most people).

Hopefully, the Cleveland effort will inspire other regions and communities to develop similar programs.

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