People everywhere should have the knowledge they need to tap into the full power of the internet, and to use it to make their lives and the world better. This means that everyone needs the skills to read, write and participate online. For this to happen, web literacy must be foundational in education, alongside skills like reading and maths.
Web literacy includes three main aspects:
- Reading: Understanding basic web mechanics used to search for and locate resources and information, including the ability to judge the credibility of these sources.
- Writing: Building and creating web content to make meaning, including how to add information or links to a webpage, ways to remix existing content and basic coding/programming skills.
- Participating: Connecting and contributing to communities that share, build, and sustain meaningful content online, including understanding how to keep content, identity and systems safe.
Internet use is expanding, with the broad majority of people worldwide – 60 per cent – expected to be online by 2020. The integration of the internet into people’s daily lives is helped by hardware and software that are easy to use and require little technical understanding. This lowers the barrier to entry and makes the internet increasingly accessible.
What’s more, while TV and modern radio promote the passive consumption of content, the internet offers everyone the opportunity to create and share it just as easily as they can consume it: no sophisticated technical skills or large financial investment required. This is what has made the internet an open, innovative space.
Yet, technical simplification also means that people are required to understand less about the tools they use every day – tools that are increasingly complex. For most people, technology is a mystery.
A lack of understanding of the internet’s fundamentals is a barrier to creating and participating online, which often results in people seeing the internet as merely ‘TV 2.0’. In more extreme cases, it can lead to false impressions about the nature of the internet itself. For instance, a study in Nigeria and Indonesia showed that over 60 per cent of participants believe Facebook is the internet.
Web literacy is necessary for people to understand and be able to take full advantage of all the internet has to offer. Using the internet without also building core web literacy skills is like learning the alphabet, but not the vowels – something fundamental is missing, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand or use it effectively.