Parenting

Kids Are Surfing the Internet Without a Learner's Permit

| by Dr Gwenn

I read yesterday
that Microsoft wants to improve the computer skills of Americans.
Microsoft's plan is to target beginning and intermediate computer
skills through a program called "Elevate America".
The program will be made available via vouchers and be run through
e-learning courses. So, to be clear, this is a computer-based computer
training program - and billed as a program for beginner and
intermediate computer users.

Given today's computer entrenched
society, I applaud Microsoft's generosity and innovation. The Elevate
America website does describe a wide variety of skills that would help
a person get ahead in the work place and life if all they needed was a
technical tune-up. For beginners, though, I have some concerns.

One
of the biggest pitfalls with the program is its design and structure.
The program is so computer based it will be interesting to see if the
people in true need of this program actually reap it's benefits. For
e-learning to be successful, a person has to be a bit of a go-getter
and have some solid computer and literacy skills. If someone is having
trouble with computer skills, how is this going to help? Is there an
onsite part of the program for people who need that? What about people
who have trouble reading? How is that issue addressed?

The
other major issue that the program doesn't seem to cover well is online
literacy - namely, media and health literacy. Microsoft does list "information literacy"
under computer basics which is described as "Using the Internet and
World Wide Web. Covers exploring the Web using search engines, working
with e-mail, and creating Web pages." As described, people will get
online but the program doesn't delve into helping people interpret the
websites they find and sort out whether a site is reliable or loaded
with commercial backing. This is the core of media literacy training.
And, since most people search for health information online, it's
equally important to cover health literacy so people understand that
not everything health-related online is accurate or even worth reading.

Think
about it like this: would you ever give a teen the keys to a car
without making sure he or she had a learner's permit, driver's ed, a
defensive driving course, understood rules of the road and knew how to
use the car itself? 2million people are about to be given the keys to
driving the internet superhighway through Microsoft's training programs
nationwide. If the internet were a real highway, we'd have traffic
jams, traffic congestion and major accidents as those folks explored
cyberspace without their learner's permits in place.

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