5.0 Building digital skills
5.1 What do you see as the most critical challenges in skills development for a digital economy?
In a digital economy, technology is ubiquitous and in a constant state of change. The most critical challenge is ensuring continuous and flexible access to skills development and training, not just for the labour market but for citizens as a whole who need these skills to participate in the social, political and economic life of the 21st century.
5.2 What is the best way to address these challenges?
These challenges can best be addressed with a three-point approach:
As other parts of this submission have already pointed out, access to new communications tools should be considered a public good. Access to "effective" bandwidth that supports a wide range of communications applications should be a legal right for all Canadians.
Learning and training in the digital world will be a lifelong challenge for citizens and governments need to be proactive by establishing an enabling policy environment. There is a persistant shortage, for example, both in the formal and informal learning environments, of instructional assistants in the area of digital skills. Programs such as Industry Canada's Community Access Program Youth Initiative (CAP YI), which receives funding from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), meet this challenge and should be supported and expanded. This program annually hires youth between the ages of 15 to 30 to help meet the skills needs of users of public community access sites. Both the summer work experience stream and the career focus stream provide valuable work experience to interns and valuable learning experiences to clients of these sites.
Such programs, offered in conjunction with various levels of government, could also serve the more formal learning environment (elementary, secondary, postsecondary) in meeting its needs for assistance in this area.
Although the formal education system is expected to produce graduates who have the skills to fill the jobs available, we cannot know precisely what skills will be required in future jobs. In part this is because opinions are mixed as to the nature of the future workplace, with potentially more virtual and shorter-lived organizations, as Grantham (2000), in The Future of Work, suggests. By contrast, Arnott (2000), in Corporate Cults sees organizations as becoming increasingly integrated into people's lives, making them more dependent. Regardless of the specifics, technology will change rapidly and there is a general agreement that internet access will be increasingly pervasive and the means of accessing it will become ever more integrated and mobile. Education needs to become more flexible at all levels to prepare students for such an uncertain future. The current variability in the way schools integrate technology into k-12 education, and to a slightly lesser extent, post-secondary education needs to be addressed, with clearer standards and ongoing professional development for teachers to allow them to keep up with changes in technology and research on how these changes may be effectively reflected in curricula.
5.3 What can we do to ensure that labour market entrants have digital skills?
Discussions at the recent Canada 3.0 conference pointed out that an affordable and accessible infrastructure is the base for further development of digital skills. Just as important is the recognition that these skills will need to be addressed at many different levels to serve many different clients – including citizens, consumers, producers, and learners. Organizations and institutions providing access, learning and training in use of new technologies need to be supported by all levels of government. Some of the most effective work in this area is done at the local level where needs can be assessed and programs to meet them can be delivered in a timely and cost-effective fashion.
As always, ensuring that a correct balance is maintained with respect to gender and cultural participation in these programs must continue to be a goal.
5.4 What is the best way to ensure the current workforce gets the continuous up-skilling required to remain competitive in the digital economy? Are different tactics required for SMEs versus large enterprises?
Constant upgrading, both in the workforce and the general population, will be an ongoing challenge of a digital skills agenda. There should be incentives to business for investing in human capital and to individuals for skills development. Such incentives could include tax breaks to employers who provide skills upgrading sabbaticals and tuition rebates to workers for continuing education courses. Practices in other countries provide models.
5.5 How will the digital economy impact the learning system in Canada? How we teach? How we learn?
As we move forward in an on-line society, making correct and responsible use of the technology needs to be prioritized over simply using technology. There will be an on-going responsibility in formal educational institutions to provide a basic level of existing digital skills. Collaboration, problem solving, learning how to learn in new contexts will be as important as specific technological competencies and probably more portable. Skills related to effective use and management of information will be key. Constant reassessment and adjustment to accommodate emerging technologies will also be necessary.
- The government should continue to work with international bodies such as the OECD on international standards for technological competencies – not just computer skills, but also information use and management skills
- As new social and educational practices using technology as intermediary evolve, there is a need for research on using these tools in the educational and social context. Social networking is one of the newest additions to the digital toolkit, but it is too early to predict where it will eventually fit in the teaching/learning spectrum
- The federal government, as part of its innovation agenda, should support research programs studying the effective use of new technologies in formal and informal educational contexts
- Explicit focus on internet safety is required as part of the emerging area of media literacy for young people. Issues such as cyberbullying; protecting children from online predators and privacy on social networks need to be addressed as part of primary and secondary public education curricula. The next generation of Canadians should not only be skilled in the use of ICTs and digital media, but should be empowered to fully evaluate the opportunities and risks related to their use and make smart, long-term personal decisions about how they share themselves with the world in perpetuity
- Digital media literacy should be a cross-curricular program.
5.6 What strategies could be employed to address the digital divide?
In March 2006, the Final Report of the federally appointed Telecommunications Policy Review Panel (2006) acknowledged that "physical access to ICTs at the community level, together with improved broadband network connectivity, is a prime means for spreading the social and economic benefits of information technology." It also quoted a submission from researchers from the Canadian Research Alliance for Community Innovation and Networking (CRACIN) "that community networks and other community-based organizations provide both technological and social infrastructures for ICT access, adoption and use. Community networks also act as important sources of local economic development and innovation. Through training programs, for example, they help ensure that all Canadians, particularly those most at risk of being left behind, have the necessary skills to participate in the networked economy." (Chapter 7, p.7-43).
This is a powerful acknowledgment that programs such as the current Community Access Program (CAP), which daily helps thousands of Canadians acquire the skills needed to participate fully in an on-line society, have a current and future role in ensuring that no citizen is left behind. It should be recognized and supported as an essential component of a digital skills agenda.
Canada currently has a national network of 3,500 community technology centers that help more than 100,000 people per day (Telecom Policy Review Panel, 2006. c. 8) to incorporate new technologies into their lives. These sites and their young facilitators, along with a legion of volunteers, provide job search and software training, technology literacy programs, access to community services, and cultural integration opportunities. They partner with the local private and public sector to provide services and experienced personnel in many different areas – from film editing to website building. Along the way, thousands of youth gain valuable job experience and thousands of Canadians, including First Nations people in remote villages, immigrants in inner cities, youth, seniors, economically disadvantaged, and physically challenged citizens learn to use the new technologies to their advantage. Both internal and external evaluators have agreed that this very cost-effective program has been a success story for years (Ekos, 2004). This network must not be allowed to collapse in the current policy vacuum. Support for existing centres needs to be expanded and a program to restart funding for new centres needs to be established.
This investment will boost the local economy by encouraging the uses of technology for community development and by offering collaborative tools that promote the effectiveness of the community sector. With so many communities in distress due to major job losses, these programs provide essential support in this economic downturn.
5.7 Other: Government as a model user
The government itself must become a model user of new technologies, converting to on-line systems and integrating them where privacy policies allow such integration.
Government departments must also co-ordinate activities more closely and communicate more effectively where their responsibilities overlap. Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), for example, share responsibility for digital skills programs. Any policies to address these issues on a national scale will require deep integration of their operations.
Immediately following our Roundtable on June 14, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications (2010) announced its Plan for a Digital Canada
Of the 18 recommendations in the Standing Senate Committee's Report, the following are supportive of or relevant to the points raised in the Roundtable gathering that generated this Consultation document:
- Recommendation 1
- Canada should present a strategy for an inclusive digital society.
- Recommendation 2
- Canada should, in conjunction with the presentation of a strategy for an inclusive digital society, appoint a Minister for Digital Policy, who would take over the oversight of the strategy from the Minister of Industry.
- Recommendation 3
- The Minister of Industry in the Digital Strategy should not focus on any particular technology or speed for increased broadband coverage in Canada.
- Recommendation 4
- The Minister of Industry in the Digital Strategy should focus on the broadband speeds necessary to bring essential digital services to all citizens.
- Recommendation 5
- The government in its digital strategy should define universal as 100 per cent of its citizens.
- Recommendation 6
- The government should use all the proceeds from spectrum auctions to provide high-speed Internet (broadband) access for rural and remote areas.
- Recommendation 12
- The Minister for Digital Policy and other federal ministers should work with their provincial counterparts to develop a comprehensive digital literacy programs that can become an integral part of the education system.
- Recommendation 14
- The government should pursue open access policies with respect to telecommunications infrastructure as a means of sustaining or improving competition in the telecommunications sector.
- Recommendation 15
- The government should change the requirement for current spectrum licence holders to spend 2% of revenue on research and development and have the money redirected for the deployment of broadband to areas currently unserved.
- Recommendation 16
- Industry Canada, in establishing policies to allocate and price spectrum, promote wireless service in currently unserved or underserved areas.
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications worked for approximately a year, held twenty-two meetings to consult with a wide variety of stakeholders, and went on two international fact-finding missions. In contrast, the Roundtable participants responsible for this response to the Digital Economy Consultation met once, in addition to soliciting online submissions via an, interactive wiki, and brought together academics, lawyers, and experts from industry. The fact that the same kinds of issues and answers came independently from these two very different processes suggests, we believe, that the general concerns expressed in these documents about the digital future of Canada, are both widespread and significant.
The Standing Senate Committee on Transportation and Communications' recommendations can be sorted into two groups of direct relevance to the Digital Economy Consultation's key questions and categories.
6.1 Building a World-Class Digital Infrastructure
Infrastructure building issues are discussed through our submission to the digital economy strategy consultation (sections 1.4; section 3 - in particular 3.1; 3.3; 3.4; 3.10). Senate Standing Committee Recommendations three, four and five deal with the universality and ubiquity elements of the proposed Digital Strategy, and the pros and cons of having broadband speed targets. In their "Plan for a Digital Canada," the committee recommends that rather than focusing on particular technologies or setting static minimum speed levels, "The Minister of Industry in the Digital Strategy should focus on the broadband speeds necessary to bring essential digital services to all citizens" (Standing Senate Committee, 17).
Many other National Broadband Plans, such as the Australian National Broadband Network initiative and the FCC National Broadband Plan for the U.S., have chosen to define two kinds of speed targets, a high one for a majority of users and a significantly lower one for a universal (or ubiquitous) floor (e.g. 100 Mbps for 90% of the Australian population by 2018, 12 Mbps for the rest). Some have criticized this approach as continuing the existing Digital Divide between urban and rural areas.
The recommendations we make in this consultation response paper for our Canadian strategy do not echo the Senate report directly, but are in much the same spirit. Our recommendations include quantitative minimum standards of 1.5 Mbps immediately, and 5 Mbps by 2015 for (nearly) all Canadians at affordable rates (e.g. $20/mo) (See section 3.3). Similar to the Standing Senate Committee, we believe the adequacy of these potential standards must be measured against the speeds necessary to bring essential services to Canadians in every region as well as prevailing socio-economic conditions. We suggest that by instituting mandatory reviews of these standards at regular intervals, during which participation is solicited from a wide range of broadband providers and users across Canada, these targets can undergo ongoing revision in order to keep them current and relevant in the rapidly changing technological environment. This approach provides both a concrete, measurable target and an assurance that changing contexts and needs can be accommodated within the policy structure. Further, like the Standing Senate Committee in its' fifth recommendation, we take universal access to mean providing this minimum standard of broadband service to 100% of Canadians.
A different facet of Digital Infrastructure is reflected in Recommendations 6 and 14-16, which deal with Spectrum Management practices, including open access (Rec. 14), the disposition of revenues from spectrum auctions (Rec. 6) and the mandated 2% research and development (R & D) expenditure (Rec. 15) for wireless carriers who hold spectrum licences. The AWS/PCS spectrum auction in 2008 brought in over 4 billion dollars; the Standing Senate Committee suggests in their recommendations that these revenues from the sale of spectrum should be redirected to supporting the deployment of broadband in unserved and underserved rural and remote areas. Any redirection of spectrum revenues which currently flow into the general revenues of the government of Canada will require a major change of policy by the Department of Finance since we do not have dedicated taxes in Canada, like the gasoline tax in the U.S. which is used to support the Highway Trust Fund. However, this remains an obvious source of funding for any future broadband initiatives that the federal government might choose to undertake, both to extend service to rural and remote areas as well as make it affordable for those who already have service locally available but who lack the financial means to subscribe. While the Roundtable group did not make a similar recommendation in regards to specific funding mechanisms for improvements to the broadband infrastructure, it is clear that the necessary upgrading and improvements necessary to ensure the affordable, universal and ubiquitous access that we recommend must be funded in a sustainable and substantial manner.
Through this submission was have returned to the importance of open access policies (sections 3.2; 3.9; 3.11; 4.1; 4.9). The Standing Senate Committee recommendation 14, regarding pursuing open access policies is well aligned with the Roundtable group's recommendation for the adoption and promotion of open access practices and standards. The recommendation which seems slightly more contentious is Recommendation 15, which asks the government to change the requirement for spectrum licence holders to invest 2% of revenue on R & D. Spectrum licence holders dislike this requirement, and the impetus for this recommendation, according to the Senate Committee report, credits a Rogers representative with the suggestion that perhaps the money would be better spent on rural deployment. Given the emerging challenges we itemize in the second part of section three of this Consultation paper, and the clear need for significant research investment to ensure a secure, competitive and responsive infrastructure capable of accommodating the "internet of things" while maintaining attention to key privacy values and human development issues, we would suggest that a balance needs to be struck between rural deployment and ongoing carrier-financed research to fuel industry innovation. Furthermore, given that increasing levels of R & D and technology innovation are seen as central challenges in the "Improving Canada's Digital Advantage" document, this recommendation seems unlikely to find wide support.
6.2 Building Digital Skills for Tomorrow
Recommendation 12, which addresses digital literacy education, is relevant to the "Building Digital Skills for Tomorrow" stream of the Digital Economy Strategy consultation. This recommendation is in keeping with our Roundtable group recommendations regarding the need for accessible, continuous, and flexible learning in a digital society. We would like to suggest, however, that although coordination between federal and provincial governments to ensure formal educational progress on digital literacy is essential, it is merely a start. As we note in Section 5 of this consultation response, true digital literacy must be promoted both within formal educational systems and in community anchor institutions such as technology centres, libraries, and community centres, and must be predicated on affordable and universal access to the necessary technological infrastructures.
6.3 Conclusion: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity
Perhaps the key contribution of the Standing Senate Committee "Plan for a Digital Canada" to this Consultation on the Digital Economy is not in its recommendations, but in its recognition of the true scope of the need for policy, planning and citizen participation in the digital society. Its first and second recommendations, which call for a comprehensive strategy for a digital society, and a dedicated Minister of Digital Policy to oversee the coordination necessary across multiple Ministries and areas of government, speak directly to this larger vision. As the Senate report warns, although there are a number of important policy initiatives currently underway, Canada has a long way to go to develop a truly inclusive and extensive digital society. Canadians, they argue, are "still digital tourists as opposed to fully functioning citizens in a digital society" (Standing Senate Committee, p. 15). As we too argue at the beginning of this Consultation response, Canada, and Canadians, need to take a broad perspective of the Digital Economy as a key element in a well integrated and inclusive Digital Society. Canadians can't be tourists, just passing through—we have to find a way to live in and shape the Digital Society of today and tomorrow, productively, sustainably, and safely. We sincerely hope this consultation on a Digital Economy Strategy for Canadians ultimately helps to work towards that goal.
The convenors of this roundtable consensus submission process appreciate the contributions of many parties.
The Faculty of Information, the Identity, Privacy and Security Institute (IPSI) and the Knowledge Media Design Institute (KMDI) funded in equal shares the organizational and editorial work, as well as the food and refreshments on the day of the roundtable. We appreciate the speed and generosity of Dean Seamus Ross, Prof. Dimitris Hatzinakos and Prof. Kostas Plataniotis, the academic leaders of these units respectively, in responding unhesitatingly to our request for such support. This financial support for the process in no way indicates official organizational endorsement of the document produced, which remains solely with the individuals listed in the Endorsements section.
Rhonda Sussman of IPSI, and Tessa Liem of KMDI provided invaluable logistical assistance.
The volunteer efforts of those who served as facilitators and scribes of the various breakout sessions during the roundtable greatly assisted the work of putting this document together in rather short order, and made it personally rewarding. These individuals also helped turn the notes into suitably polished text. Those who deserve credit in this regard are: Leslie Chan, Twyla Gibson, Andrew Hilts, Eva Jansen, Brenda McPhail, Marita Moll, Rebecca Schild, Leslie Regan Shade, and Jeremy Shtern.
On the new media front, live tweeting of our event was carried out by Morgan Peers and others. Dave Kemp, visual artist produced a digital video of our event for posting to YouTube with the title 'Consensus Submission to the Canadian Government's Digital Strategy Consultation.'
And finally, of course, we appreciate all those who contributed to the wiki or the in person discussion. Without the willingness of all those mentioned in the Endorsement section to devote their time and careful attention to thinking about the complex issues of a digital society and collaboratively crafting a consensus document, this simply would not have been possible or worth doing. This is now your statement.
Image Credit (cover)
"Weaving the Web", 2009 - Travis Meinolf, Ele Carpenter, after Paul Grimmer; selection from the Open Source Embroidery exhibit and sourced under Creative Commons from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremybrooks/4267648329/
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