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Why data should be the new literacy

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Data, we’re all in on data. It’s underpinning decision-making process and informing procedures in all types of organisations from the corporates to healthcare, publishing, manufacturing and of course education.

So, as the use of data becomes ubiquitous, data literacy, or the ability to gather, assess and present findings derived from data is becoming more essential, alongside skills like literacy, numeracy and coding.

“The world has shifted and data has become the new asset. It’s been around forever, but what we’re seeing now is increased importance being placed on the ability to consume data effectively to make decisions. It's become a bigger imperative than it was historically,” says Jordan Morrow, Qlik’s Global Head of Data Literacy – Qlik is an industry leader in data analytics and business intelligence.

Many of the leading thinkers in education are big on the use of data to drive a school’s policy and direction and inevitably data interpretation and presentation need to make their way further into the curriculum. Also, businesses are contending with the issue of how to use and gather data and skills in the area are very in demand.

“I get asked frequently ‘how do we improve this in education?’ and from an educational perspective, in my mind, all the way from university right down to elementary, fostering the use of information to make decisions needs to be what schools are doing. It’s not just nice to have, I would suggest it is an imperative.

“When you think about data analytics, it’s very outcomes based, so you can teach a child through the curriculum and their education to take information to drive a desired outcome or an unexpected outcome.

“Once you get to high school and university you can make it more specific and project based, you can put business problems in front of them, you can put real world problems in front of them too, allowing them to find that these skills are transferable not just in education or in business but to life in general,” Morrow says.

“To me, data literacy is best learnt through problem-based scenarios, even at elementary level. Put a problem in front of a child and say ‘we need to determine how may apples to buy’ or something similar and then you put the different pieces of information and data in front of them and allow them the freedom to figure it out – rather than ‘teaching’ this stuff, allow them the freedom determine the steps.

“What you will find is one student will figure it out this way and get the right answer and another student will figure it out another way and get a totally different answer that is also correct. What you’re teaching them are the fundamental problem solving and critical thinking skills that will matter in all aspects of their life.”

There’s far more to data than figures and multi-disciplinary occasions can be used to help students learn these skills. All the elements of the Maker process can be found in data; play, critical thinking, design processes and indeed art.

Massive amounts of data are being gathered from many different sources all the time but when presented with figures on a spreadsheet it is as clear as mud for all but a few. To be useful data needs to be presented in a visual form that most can use.

“I see senior data scientists who are able to interpret the data but can’t present it in a way that others can understand,” says Morrow.

You don't have to be a statistician or have a maths brain to learn how to use data. Qlik has launched free courses through the Data Literacy Project and also offers on-site instructor-led courses and a university-level academic program. The self-directed e-courses run in short 15-75 minute blocks, with Morrow suggesting that the full online course will take 8 to 9 weeks to complete and can set you on the path to being a data scientist or more simply a person who has a good understanding of data. There is certification available as well.

“When we talk about data, people think they have to learn statistics, but the reality is when it comes to analytics and making decisions with data a lot of that can be harnessed through curiosity. Teach children how to take information, how to critically think on that information and then how to make a decision with that information.

“Sometimes that means statistics, sometimes that means coding but a lot of times it’s just following a process. For too long people have been fearful that the data and technology element of analytics would take over. In reality, the human element is the most powerful piece because that is where the curiosity happens.”

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