It’s UK political party grandstanding season. Gordon Brown (our Prime Minister) has decided that children from poor families should have free computer use (including access to the internet) so that they can compete in the jobs market. Of course. But does this not miss a point: UK children can have access to the internet through school or – when older – through publicly funded job agencies. The people who are most in need are the adults who have dropped off the learning-and-employment ladder and the adults who are officially retired but, unless they can be online and learn to be online, are becoming ever more estranged from many facets of this Western society.
Of course, I am well aware that some people desperately need water while I complain about computers and internet access. In defence, computers and internet acccess require easy access to water as without water people have no free time to worry about anything else. All people within modern social structures (that is, aware of modern political systems rather than in remote self-sufficient tribes) now need access to the internet. Adults born long before the introduction of the laptop computer need access to the internet to gain access to information, socialise, pay bills, book holidays, learn new things and create new businesses. In the UK, it is less the children that need help, but more the adults who are still braving the open doors of a well-equipped primary school for an after-school club showing them how to use a mouse and explore that curious place known as ‘online’. Without ‘online’ so much modern educational resource is closed: much public ‘television’, much free university material, much free OpenSource material, much free supplementary newspaper material. Without ‘online’, adults cannot learn how to contribute in and to an online world.
It is not a matter of being nice to Great-Aunt Meg. While the emphasis is on children, adults have an excuse to hold back and yet it is adults who have the broader skills and knowledge that need to be passed on. It is adults who have the personal skills that are essential to run businesses and administrations no matter what the technology.
Reading this, you will be online. Let’s get the message out there: adult online learning should be a mainstream priority wherever we are in the world.