More than half of young people think education should increase focus on data skills

A new study published today highlights the extent of the data literacy gap impacting 16–21-year-olds in various regions around the world

More than half (55%) of young people aged 16–21 in a survey published today (23 March) believe their education does not currently place enough emphasis on the acquisition of relevant data literacy skills.

In a survey of 3,000 students from the US, UK and Germany, described as ‘digital natives’ by analytics company Exasol, creators of the study, researchers strived to unravel respondents’ attitudes and understanding towards data in both the education sector and the world of work.

While more than half of participants deem the comprehension of data to be as vital to their future prospects as their ability to read and write, only 43% would actually characterise themselves as being ‘data literate’.

However, a higher proportion (55%) of young people claimed they could read, work with, analyse and argue with statistics – fundamental skills in data literacy, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) definition.

“Data literacy is about more than number crunching – it’s about being a storyteller. A narrator” – Adah Parris, Exasol

This discrepancy could be caused by a general lack of awareness of what actually constitutes data consumption and analysis, since many digital natives are unaware of just how ubiquitous these things are in our everyday activities. From health and fitness trackers, to the Netflix (and other streaming platforms) recommendation algorithm, even to product reviews and scores. This lack of understanding may have led to a general feeling of being unequipped to apply subconscious and even habitual data literacy skills in the real world among today’s digital natives.

“Data isn’t this complex, scary thing for technical people. Data is about facts and data literacy is the ability to recognise and interpret the patterns that those facts reveal” – Adah Parris

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“Data literacy is about more than number crunching – it’s about being a storyteller. A narrator,” said Adah Parris, futurist, cultural strategist and contributor to the report. “As we create data, the data creates us. It is a non-linear process of inter and intra-connected storytelling. Data isn’t this complex, scary thing for technical people. Data is about facts and data literacy is the ability to recognise and interpret the patterns that those facts reveal. On that basis, digital natives might actually be more data literate than they think.”

When it comes to preparing students for a data-driven world, students generally feel that the education system could do better; while 49% of respondents agreed that data would play a central role in their future career, only 45% felt that their education placed sufficient emphasis on the development of data literacy.

“Maybe the role of the educator of the future is not to merely pass on facts (data) and figures but to help digital natives to recognise the interconnectedness and transferability of skills within and across every aspects of their lives,” added Parris.

Beyond education, businesses are actively seeking recruits with the ability to interpret data and make informed decisions – but Exasol’s study suggests that digital natives may fall short of their future employers’ expectations.

“Regardless of job descriptions, the ability to work with data is becoming increasingly crucial in the workplace. In theory, digital natives should have developed the data literacy skills necessary for effective data analysis, storytelling and visualisations. Their untapped potential could spur a revolution in the way we use data to transform business and improve our daily lives,” explained Helena Schwenk, technology evangelist at Exasol.

However, said Schwenk, the survey highlights two issues: a genuine skills shortage of complex data skills and a miscommunication between the language of digital natives and the business jargon used by employers.

“There is work for educators, business leaders and the young people themselves to do to bridge the data literacy gap – to create not just a productive workforce but also a richer society,” said Schwenk.


You might also like: Major shift towards tech-based degrees, according to UCAS data


 

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