My son is 7 and he’s a very smart little guy, though when he was born, he couldn’t talk. To our dismay, we soon discovered he couldn’t read or write either. As first-time parents, we searched frantically for advice and support and soon became lost in a sea of information and misinformation. We knew we had to do something to help him - we couldn't allow our illiterate newborn to struggle with basic literacy skills for the rest of his life.
After much debate, we decided against enrolling him in a graduate degree with an English Literature major. Our gut told us this might be overkill. We decided on a far gentler course of action, one that has proven successful for thousands upon thousands of years: immersion. Every day we sang to him, read to him, talked to him and we encouraged everyone around him to do the same. We completely immersed this little man in language, and over the following months, he learned how to garble, babble and ultimately how to talk.
Since those early days – his vocabulary has developed beyond all expectation. I now find myself deep in conversation with a very articulate mini-me. Believe it or not, he has also learned to read and write (albeit still with some room to grow!) Aside from taking any opportunity to tell the world how brilliant my boy is, why does this story matter? Because I’m facing the same challenge again – we all are: how do we build our new literacy? How do we build and nurture universal data literacy?
It won't be long until our economic and social advantage is determined by our ability to harness and unleash the limitless power of data. Some would argue this time has already arrived. Our ability to read, write and comprehend data will become the key determinant of our success. Data literacy will become our new universal standard. I believe it will become the measure of equality - universal data literacy is the key to our future success.
Universal data literacy doesn't mean we all need the skills, ability and ambition to be data scientists or analysts – but it does mean we need to be able to read, write and comprehend data at some level. We must build and nurture this new literacy – data literacy – within every single person in this great, wide world if we are to individually and collectively thrive in the new economy. This is not optional, this is imperative - a necessity if we are to tap the endless opportunity our data-driven world presents.
As organisations; we need to create environments where every person – no matter what industry, profession, rank or responsibility – has access to data, can experiment with data, is supported and encouraged to ask questions and challenge the status quo with data. Above all, we need to create environments where we have space and permission to practice, practice, practice. We must find a way to tear down the barriers currently preventing two-thirds of our organisations from participating in the digital transformation conversation.
As educators; we need to create and nurture environments where every student – no matter what discipline or grade – can be completely immersed in data. Every subject we teach can have a related lesson with data. The more we do to demystify and decode this new language, the more data literate our students will be. Yes, we will need a broader curriculum to teach the foundations and principles of analysis – but new coursework alone is not the answer. The more time we spend talking, sharing and analysing data together – the greater our collective data literacy will be.
7 years ago, my husband and I faced the seemingly impossible task of moulding an illiterate newborn into an engaged, capable, and literate young boy with an appetite to learn and be curious. We face the same challenge again today - we all do - just in a different language. We now face the seemingly impossible task of building and nurturing universal data literacy across the globe. There are many ways to do this – but I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that immersion is the way forward.
How fortunate are we to have the keys to this puzzle firmly within reach? We have triumphed against illiteracy before, so we know how to do this. We know that constant and consistent immersion has enabled societies across the globe to build and nurture language and literacy since the beginning of time. Building and nurturing universal data literacy requires the exact same approach.