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data literacy

Data literacy, the forgotten skill of developing countries

In the information era, “big data” have become the “new gold”. In August of this year, Thestar published that “[i]n any one minute, 208,333 people take part in a Zoom video meeting, almost 42 million messages are sent on WhatsApp, more than 347,000 stories are posted on Instagram and TikTok is downloaded 2,704 times.”

Given the magnitude of these figures, it is not surprising that companies and public entities alike are already talking about the imminent need to learn how to collect and process this data in order to be able to “govern” them. But before reaching that level of knowledge, a fundamental educational step needs to be taken on the complex “big data” path. Indeed, the citizens, and especially those who work directly with data, need to be provided with adequate training. In many cases, and mostly at public level and in developing countries, this key step, called Data Literacy, is not being carried out, which constitutes a major impediment to achieving complete digital transformation.

A holistic processing of data represents a significant investment for any country. The two most common – and opposed -responses to the need for data literacy are the following: On the one hand, there is the position that it is not useful to invest in a key ecosystem such as Big Data for the country’s development. On the other hand, there is the position that commits great effort to building material infrastructures that favor the collection and processing of data. Both positions are characterized, in one way or another, by a lack of data literacy. In the first case, this shortcoming is due to a global ignorance of the data’s potential in terms of socioeconomic development at different levels and in the different sectors of a country. In the second one, it is due to a lack of awareness of the need to educate and train citizens to enable them to harness the data’s potential.

Developing countries need to establish a blueprint for a data literacy project, from conception to implementation. At the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit that took place in the USA in 2018, the notion of teaching data as if it were a second language was established. You have to learn to read, write, understand and of course apply this big data in order to ensure that it is used in a way that benefits society the most. Data literacy is the ability to derive meaningful information from data and, as such, has become a driver for society to understand the world in a broader way. Therefore, being able to communicate “in data” goes far beyond purely statistical, mathematical or technological knowledge.

In developing countries, great strides have been made in terms of technology and digitization. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of data literacy before these countries can continue to grow independently, and for the digital divide to close.

Want to know how Big Data could tame Covid-19? Click here.