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Computer literacy

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Children using a laptop computer at school (2008)

Computer literacy is defined as the knowledge and ability to use computers and related technology efficiently, with skill levels ranging from elementary use to computer programming and advanced problem solving. Computer literacy can also refer to the comfort level someone has with using computer programs and applications. Another valuable component is understanding how computers work and operate. Computer literacy may be distinguished from computer programming, which primarily focuses on the design and coding of computer programs rather than the familiarity and skill in their use.[1] Various countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have created initiatives to improve national computer literacy rates.


Computer literacy differs from digital literacy, which is the ability to communicate or find information on digital platforms.[2] Comparatively, computer literacy measures the ability to use computers and to maintain a basic understanding of how they operate.[3]

A person's computer literacy is commonly measured through questionnaires, which test their ability to write and modify text, trouble-shoot minor computer operating issues, and organize and analyze information on a computer.[4][5]

To increase their computer literacy, computer users should distinguish which computer skills they want to improve, and learn to be more purposeful and accurate in their use of these skills. By learning more about computer literacy, users can discover more computer functions that are worth using.[6]

Arguments for the use of computers in classroom settings, and thus for the promotion of computer literacy, are primarily vocational or practical. Computers are essential in the modern-day workplace.[4] The instruction of computer literacy in education is intended to provide students with employable skills.[1]

Rapid changes in technology make it difficult to predict the next five years of computer literacy. Computer literacy projects have support in many countries because they conform to general political and economic principles of those countries' public and private organizations. The Internet offers great potential for the effective and widespread dissemination of knowledge and for the integration of technological advances. Improvements in computer literacy facilitate this.[7]


The term "computer literacy" is usually attributed to Arthur Luehrmann, a physicist at Dartmouth College who was a colleague of Kemeny and Kurtz who introduced the BASIC programming language in 1964. Luehrmann became a tireless advocate of computers in teaching. At an April 1972 American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS) conference, Luehrmann gave a talk titled "Should the computer teach the student, or vice-versa?" The paper is available online. In it he notes:

If the computer is so powerful a resource that it can be programmed to simulate the instructional process, shouldn’t we be teaching our students mastery of this powerful intellectual tool? Is it enough that a student be the subject of computer administered instruction—the enduser of a new technology? Or should his education also include learning to use the computer (1) to get information in the social sciences from a large database inquiry system, or (2) to simulate an ecological system, or (3) to solve problems by using algorithms, or (4) to acquire laboratory data and analyze it, or (5) to represent textual information for editing and analysis, or (6) to represent musical information for analysis, or (7) to create and process graphical information? These uses of computers in education cause students to become masters of computing, not merely its subjects.

In 1978, Andrew Molnar was director of the Office of Computing Activities at the National Science Foundation in the United States.[8][9] Shortly after its formation, computer literacy was discussed in several academic articles. In 1985 the Journal of Higher Education asserted that being computer literate involved mastering word processing, spreadsheet programs, and retrieving and sharing information on a computer.[10]


Plan Calcul was a French governmental program in the 1960s to promote a national or European computer industry that was accompanied with a vast educational effort in programming and computer science.

The Computing for All plan was a French government initiative to introduce computers to all the country's pupils in 1985.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, a number of prominent video game developers emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[11] The ZX Spectrum, released in 1982, helped to popularize home computing, coding and gaming in Britain and Europe.[12][13][14]

The BBC Computer Literacy Project, using the BBC Micro computer, ran from 1980 to 1989. This initiative educated a generation of coders in schools and at home, before the development of mass market PCs in the 1990s.[15][16] 'Bedroom computer innovation' led to the development of early web-hosting companies aimed at businesses and individuals in the 1990s.[17]

The BBC Computer Literacy Project 2012 was an initiative to develop students' marketable information technology and computer science skills.

Computer programming skills were introduced into the National Curriculum in 2014.[18][19]

It was reported in 2017 that roughly 11.5 million United Kingdom citizens did not have basic computer literacy skills.[20] In response, the United Kingdom government published a 'digital skills strategy' in 2017.[20][21][22]

First released in 2012, the Raspberry Pi is a series of low-cost single-board computers originally intended to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools in the UK.[23][24][25] Later, they became far more popular than anticipated, and have been used in a wide variety of applications.[26] The Raspberry Pi Foundation promotes the teaching of elementary computer science in UK schools and in developing countries.[27]

United States[edit]

In 1978, the National Science Foundation put out a call to educate young people in computer programming.[28] To introduce students to computing, the U.S. government, private foundations and universities combined to fund and staff summer programs for high school students.[29][28]

Students in the United States are introduced to tablet computers in preschool or kindergarten.[30] Tablet computers are preferred for their small size and touchscreens.[31] The touch user interface of a tablet computer is more accessible to the under-developed motor skills of young children.[32] Early childhood educators use student-centered instruction to guide young students through various activities on the tablet computer.[33] This typically includes Internet browsing and the use of applications, familiarizing the young student with a basic level of computer proficiency.[32]

A concern raised within this topic of discussion is that primary and secondary education teachers are often not equipped with the skills to teach basic computer literacy.[30]

In the United States job market, computer illiteracy severely limits employment options.[34][35] Non-profit organizations such as Per Scholas attempt to reduce the divide by offering free and low-cost computers to children and their families in under-served communities in South Bronx, New York, Miami, Florida, and in Columbus, Ohio.[36]

Worldwide computer literacy rates[edit]

Computer class in India (2015)

In 2020, world averages in computer literacy, as determined by the World Economic Forum, revealed that the OECD countries were not as computer literate as one would expect. About a quarter of individuals did not know how to use a computer. At least 45% were rated poorly, and only 30% were rated as moderately to strongly computer literate.[37]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b Tobin, Catherine D. (February 1983). "Developing Computer Literacy". The Arithmetic Teacher. 30 (6): 22–23, 60. doi:10.5951/AT.30.6.0022. JSTOR 41190615.
  2. ^ Buckingham, David (2010), "Defining Digital Literacy", in Bachmair, Ben (ed.), Medienbildung in neuen Kulturräumen (in German), VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 59–71, doi:10.1007/978-3-531-92133-4_4, ISBN 978-3-531-16755-8
  3. ^ "An Overview of Basic Computer Literacy Skills" (PDF). Harper College.
  4. ^ a b Kegel, RHP (2019). "Towards More Individualized Interfaces: Automating the Assessment of Computer Literacy" (PDF). BCSS@persuasive.
  5. ^ Tobin, Catherine D. (1983). "Developing Computer Literacy". The Arithmetic Teacher. 30 (6): 22–23. doi:10.5951/AT.30.6.0022. JSTOR 41190615.
  6. ^ Fiorini, Barbara M. "Computer Literacy: Teach Yourself".
  7. ^ Watkins, Nellouise (1982). National Goals And Strategies For Computer Literacy. pp. 267–270.
  8. ^ "Oral-History:Andrew R. Molnar - Engineering and Technology History Wiki". ethw.org. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  9. ^ "Definition of computer literacy". PCMAG. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  10. ^ Haigh, Roger W. (March 1985). "Planning for Computer Literacy". The Journal of Higher Education. 56 (2): 161–171. doi:10.2307/1981664. JSTOR 1981664.
  11. ^ Blake, Jimmy (6 January 2019). "How the UK became a major player in the gaming world". BBC News. Retrieved 7 January 2019. The gaming industry as it now exists formed around the same time back in the late 70s early 80s - there were a small number of influential people in programming.
  12. ^ "Sinclair Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson dies in US". BBC News. 26 April 2018. Retrieved 27 April 2018. the machines had "spawned a generation" of coders that had helped to establish the UK's reputation as a creative, game-making powerhouse
  13. ^ Kelion, Leo (23 April 2012). "Sinclair's ZX Spectrum turns 30". BBC News. Retrieved 26 April 2018. The success was also driven by videogame sales - the machines were originally marketed as an educational tool but you ensured titles were ready at launch.
  14. ^ O'Regan, Gerard (21 June 2016). Introduction to the History of Computing: A Computing History Primer. Springer. ISBN 9783319331386.
  15. ^ "BBC releases computer history archive". BBC News. 27 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  16. ^ "BBC Computer Literacy Project Archive". computer-literacy-project.pilots.bbcconnectedstudio.co.uk. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  17. ^ Bonsignore, Tony (11 February 2019). "I stole £30,000 from my mum to make millions". Retrieved 11 February 2019. Fasthosts was a classic example of the bedroom computer innovation that the UK was so good at in the 80s and 90s.... it also simplified the process of registering domain names and accessing web hosting
  18. ^ Dredge, Stuart (4 September 2014). "Coding at school: a parent's guide to England's new computing curriculum". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  19. ^ "National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study". GOV.UK. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Digital Skills in the United Kingdom" (PDF). House of Lords Library Briefing. 10 August 2017.
  21. ^ "Government sets out digital strategy". BBC News. 1 March 2017. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  22. ^ "UK Digital Strategy". GOV.UK. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  23. ^ Cellan-Jones, Rory (5 May 2011). "A £15 computer to inspire young programmers". BBC News.
  24. ^ Price, Peter (3 June 2011). "Can a £15 computer solve the programming gap?". BBC Click. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  25. ^ Bush, Steve (25 May 2011). "Dongle computer lets kids discover programming on a TV". Electronics Weekly. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  26. ^ "Ten millionth Raspberry Pi, and a new kit – Raspberry Pi". 8 September 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2016. we've beaten our wildest dreams by three orders of magnitude
  27. ^ Collins, Sarah (25 February 2022). "The life of Pi: Ten years of Raspberry Pi". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  28. ^ a b Aamoth, Doug (15 November 2011). "The Man Who Invented Email". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  29. ^ "Statement from the National Museum of American History: Collection of Materials from V.A. Shiva Ayyudurai". National Museum of American History. 15 March 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  30. ^ a b Jordan, H; Hunter, E; Lee, I.C. (2016). "Tablet Technology for Educators". Proceedings of Global Learn-Global Conference on Learning and Technology: 94–100.
  31. ^ Neumann, Michelle M.; Neumann, David L. (4 September 2013). "Touch Screen Tablets and Emergent Literacy". Early Childhood Education Journal. 42 (4): 231. doi:10.1007/s10643-013-0608-3. S2CID 39970718.
  32. ^ a b Blackwell, Courtney K.; Lauricella, Alexis R.; Wartella, Ellen (1 July 2016). "The Influence of TPACK Contextual Factors on Early Childhood Educators' Tablet Computer Use". Computers & Education. 98: 57–69. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2016.02.010.
  33. ^ Beschorner, Beth; Hutchison, Amy (2013). "iPads as a Literacy Teaching Tool in Early Childhood" (PDF). International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology. 1 (1): 16–24.
  34. ^ Wyatt, Edward (18 August 2013). "Most of U.S. Is Wired, but Millions Aren't Plugged In". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  35. ^ Peng, Gang (September 2017). "Do computer skills affect worker employment? An empirical study from CPS surveys". Computers in Human Behavior. 74: 26–34. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.04.013.
  36. ^ "Per Scholas; Affordable Technology Finally Available to Bronx Residents". Pediatrics Week: 42. 27 August 2011.
  37. ^ Fenton, Helen. "Machine in Control". www.boti.co.za. Business Optimization Training Institute. Retrieved 26 May 2020.

Further reading[edit]