Less than 38% of young Americans can complete tech tasks more difficult than sorting e-mails into folders.

Group of students in library using tablet PC

Although the United States invented the personal computer, its young adults are falling behind many other countries in their technological proficiency, according to a recent article in Education Week. The article cites a study performed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in which young adults aged 16 – 24 years, from 19 countries, attempted to perform tasks of three different difficulty levels, including sorting e-mails into folders, organizing data into spreadsheets, and managing reservations for virtual meeting rooms. Young adults from the U.S. performed the worst, as less than 38 percent could successfully complete tasks more difficult than sorting e-mails into folders; and 11 percent were unable to perform the most basic exercises – the second-highest rate among the participating countries. In comparison, 44 percent of Sweden’s young adults achieved the two highest levels of proficiency.

How can the U.S. facilitate digital literacy among young adults? Educators, in particular, can play a role by introducing students to various technologies, and teaching them to use them. In fact, school librarians are uniquely positioned to work with students to increase these skills, with their emphases on 21st-century instruction strategies such as teaching students to use digital resources and to use technology to organize and share information. Also, Brian Lewis, the chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology Education, an educational technology advocacy group, recommends that educators engage students with technologies they are already accustomed to, such as digital games. Once educators have captured their students’ attention, they can then focus their attention toward using technology for, perhaps, less fun, but more useful, purposes.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The Weekly Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st century library.

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