The importance of data literacy in secondary education

School leaders will understand the importance of data and just what it means to understand and manage the copious amounts that pass before their eyes on a day-to-day basis. Jordan Morrow, head of data literacy at Qlik Global, argues that schools need to equip students with the skills they’ll need to work in a data-driven world of work

New industries and technologies mean that current students will be stepping into a very different market than they would have done ten years ago. The current crop of 18-year-olds – the first to enter the workplace after being born in the new millennium – will be taking up jobs which are shaped around trends such as artificial intelligence and automation. However, being a digital native doesn’t necessarily mean they have the ability to complement these new technologies and perform their job to the highest possible standard.

Developing digital skills

Secondary educators must take a lead role in equipping students with the skills needed to future proof themselves. Indeed, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, recently called for schools to better prepare pupils for the digital revolution – stating that teaching digitals skills such as coding and computing will help our society evolve to match the modern economy.
However, being prepared for the technological advances of the future is not just limited to teaching students how to code. While we will need a workforce which can, for example, build and programme AI technologies, we will also need a wider workforce with the soft skills that can interpret and derive meaningful insight from the vast amounts of data these technologies produce.

A contemporary curriculum

But, just how can we ensure the curriculum fully prepares students for the future workplace and provides them with the data literacy skills needed to provide a positive contribution? First, students must be educated on why data is important. With the vast amounts of data presented in the world today, whether it comes in the form of numbers or text, there needs to be much wider awareness that future employers will require them to interact with it in some manner. This interaction may come in the form of looking at visualisations or in the form of complex algorithms.
They must then be supported to develop the skills which will allow them to think analytically and critically about the data that is presented to them, as well as abilities to learn context and tell stories with data.
Educators can help to develop the critical thinking skills required by teaching students to not take data at face value, but to interrogate it and continually ask why. The art of putting data into context to tell stories will require lots of practice and experimentation in the classroom. But those who are encouraged to combine analytical thinking with storytelling will become strong candidates for future employers.
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