May 18, 2016

Data Literacy Campaign Takes Long View

George Leopold

Among the growing number of initiatives designed to fill the data science skills gap is a “data literacy” campaign designed to emphasize analytical skills as early as elementary school. These grass-roots efforts aim to develop the next generation of data scientists much as STEM curricula seeks to train future engineers.

Educators and data analysts met recently during a workshop at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., to explore the nature of data literacy and how analytical thinking can be incorporated into K-16 classrooms and course work. The result was a report issued by the Oceans of Data Institute and IBM titled, Building Global Interest in Data Literacy: A Dialogue.

The data literacy workshop reached consensus on three key points:

  • The global economy and the workforce of the future will be increasingly shaped by data and “by the knowledge and skills required to use it effectively.”
  • Human activity continues to produce streams of data, and with it a growing need to manage data to ensure privacy and personal security.
  • Leveraging data “empowers us to make objective, evidence-based inferences and fundamental decisions affecting our lives, both as individuals and among societies.”

The Education Development Center (EDC) based in Waltham, Mass., sponsors the Oceans of Data Institute. Federal and state agencies, corporations and foundations fund EDC.

“We believe that someone considered data literate is someone who can understand, explain, and find meaning in data,” EDC’s Randy Kochevar, director of ODI, noted in a statement. “We believe every student in school today needs these skills to thrive in a data-centric world.”

Among the goals of the data literacy campaign is educating as many as 100 million K-16 students between now and 2021. The October 2015 workshop concluded that the effort requires stakeholders to build a “global data literacy community.”

The next steps include developing and disseminating educational resources and incorporating data literacy into international education standards and assessments. Those metrics are used to gauge whether students have absorbed the basis tenets of data literacy.

The data literacy campaign builds on similar government efforts to boost adult literacy as well as a growing number of data science and coding boot camps. For example, data science boot camps scheduled for this summer in New York City and San Francisco teach data science skills in an intensive 12-week course. The boot camps qualify participants for entry-level jobs and connect graduates with data science experts. The boot camps also help connect graduates with potential employers.

Programs such as the data literacy campaign would likely provide a leg up for boot camp participants who often must fork over more than $10,000 to attend 12-week courses in New York and San Francisco. For example, boot camp acceptance requires previous experience in coding as well as applying statistics.

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