Digital literacy, resilience to be key in the post-coronavirus world
Now that we have become accustomed or even dependent on it, the shift to the digital world is certain to outlive the threat of the virus.
By EYTAN HALONPublished: APRIL 30, 2020 19:24Advertisement
As remote technologies and platforms replace many aspects of the physical world that now seems so distant, inequalities in digital literacy have been put under the spotlight.If online banking, grocery orders and communication platforms were previously considered as complementary to the physical world, the coronavirus outbreak has made them a necessity, especially for the older and at-risk populations.Now that we have become accustomed or even dependent on it, the shift to the digital world is certain to outlive the threat of the virus.Sigal Shelach, director-general of JDC Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that it is necessary to build Israel's "digital resilience" on three different levels. Increased receptiveness to digital living, she said, makes now the ideal time to make the leap to a world characterized by greater digital literacy.JDC Israel, the Israeli arm of the Joint Distribution Committee, has been working for decades to assist weak populations in the country. The accelerated digitization of life poses new challenges for many groups, including the elderly and disabled.First, on an individual level, Shelach says that every citizen must learn to "cope with the world that is now digital." This includes purchasing groceries and managing finances online, as well as digital health."The immediate health threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak comes first, but the next thing is to look after ongoing health," Shelach said. "Together with the government, we are doing a lot to make all services available online. We are working on how services are made available to the elderly, and a lot of training for professionals."Further down the line, technology and robots must be used in a more efficient way. For the elderly population, technology can be leveraged to alleviate loneliness but also monitor their health at home.Second, on a national level, Shelach says the country must increasingly embrace artificial intelligence, big data and high-quality research to improve its decision-making capabilities. These capabilities are especially important during times of crisis, such as the coronavirus outbreak."The employment services in Israel have an amazing database – today, it is more amazing than ever," said Shelach, addressing the potential of big data and Israel's workforce."They have a lot of data and a very good research department. There needs to be a look into that data to see what we can learn from that, and give jobseekers the training that is needed for the future labor market."The retraining of older workers with decades of experience will be critical, she said, to enable the market to bounce back and continue to grow.The final aspect of digital resilience concerns the community, says Shelach, where data must be pulled together and analyzed from organizations including the Tax Authority, National Insurance Institute and welfare departments, in order to improve local services."With online learning, some of the populations are being left behind just because they don't have cellular or internet infrastructure. How do you expect a child to learn online or provide rehabilitation services for the elderly in unrecognized villages?" Shelach said, emphasizing the need to close digital gaps – made apparent by the outbreak – very quickly."If we take care of our most vulnerable now, we can become a good society that takes this opportunity further," she said.At the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, headquartered at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, most of the students and faculty are from the baby-boomer generation.Despite five years of efforts to move the school's educational services into an online parallel format, management has faced significant resistance from its 4,000 or so in-person learners."When COVID-19 hit and it was obvious that we had to close our classrooms, the first thing we did was to train our directors and faculty worldwide," Rabbi Dr. Morey Schwartz, the school’s international director, told the Post."We empowered them to be able to turn to their students quickly and offer online learning, and to give them some training about how to access Zoom."In February, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the school offered three online courses taught by teachers with great reputations. Only one course managed to get off the ground, with just 12 students. Only two months later, in April, some 1,000 students signed up for four online classes."The barrier to online learning, as we all know, is a technology fear. People need to feel comfortable. When it's not intuitive, you feel like you need to write out the instructions, and you get flustered if you make a mistake," said Schwartz."Facebook was at first for younger people, and now it's for everyone. People played with it enough, and Facebook made it more intuitive. They are comfortable there. We needed to reach out to them and say 'let me help you.' I don't expect them to learn it on their own."Once there is no choice but to move online, Schwartz said, individuals will accept assistance. Moving online became no less than a survival mechanism.
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