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BusinesDay: Children may lose out if they are not ready for data-driven future risk

The next generation relies on the present one to enlighten them about the benefits and promises of the digital age.

By Johan Steyn: 22 March 2023

In the digital era, data understanding and analysis skills are vital for workers in a growing number of careers. Corporate executives must understand the significance of data literacy to plan for the future of work. However, many educators fail to recognise the importance of teaching children data literacy at a young age.

Nowadays, unless one has a certain basic level of digital skills one can also be seen as illiterate. Estimates are that over the next few years those who are unable to write computer code will form part of the same designation.

The capacity to read, comprehend and communicate data is what is meant by “data literacy”. This skill is becoming crucial, not just for people in technical professions, as we live in a world in which data can be accessed nearly anywhere. Companies consider data-driven decision-making as a core competence, and job candidates who lack this skill may be at a competitive disadvantage in the job market.

As parents and business leaders, the next generation relies on us to enlighten them about the benefits and promises of the digital age. It is vital to begin training children to read and comprehend data at an early age to prepare them for the modern economy.

Teaching data and its relevance to children must begin as early as possible. By introducing concepts such as counting, comparing and measuring, parents can assist their child to get a head start on statistics. This can be accomplished using straightforward methods, such as counting goods, measuring components for a recipe, or comparing prices at the grocery store.

The more time toddlers have to learn, the more complex data literacy abilities they might acquire. If parents want their children to learn how to analyse data, they could have them practise by constructing charts and graphs to illustrate the information. This is likely to be an enjoyable, enlightening event for the whole family. Simple spreadsheet applications such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets are ideal for this task.

Parents can also teach their children to judge the veracity of news articles by having them read those that include supporting evidence.

There are many tools that children can use to develop their data literacy. Some schools offer courses in data analysis and statistics, and there are countless online resources for students of any age. Parents and community leaders must support these initiatives and encourage their young ones to take advantage of the possibilities.

The future workforce must have a comprehensive understanding of data. Data analysis and interpretation skills will be essential for success in a variety of businesses and endeavours. As adults, it is our responsibility to prepare the next generation for the realities of life in a global economy. By teaching them to read and comprehend data from a young age, we can offer children an advantage to be ready to be skilled in a data-driven world.

It is estimated that most SA children who finish grade 1 do not know the alphabet, and more than 80% of grade 4 pupils are unable to read for meaning. We have an urgent problem if we are to compete as a nation in the digital economy.

• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and founder of


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