Computer Literacy

An Important Skill

Young Woman Writing by Computer in Apartment
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As I sit here typing away on my keyboard, I realize that I am as comfortable holding a computer mouse as I am holding a pen. That wasn't always the case, though. As a high school senior taking my first class in BASIC, a very primitive programming language, I marveled at the freshmen who were effortlessly creating error-free and complex programs. I did not reach that level of comfort around computers until many years later, after being exposed to them a little in college and more in graduate school.

Computers have come a long way since I took that first class in BASIC and, I guess, so have I.

I was shocked and disappointed, when a college professor friend of mine told me about his students, juniors and seniors at a highly competitive university, who knew little about computers, and did not know how to retrieve an emailed file and operate a simple Windows-based program. "How is that possible?" I asked. Hadn't computers been a standard part of their education—hadn't they learned reading, writing, arithmetic and computing?

Why Is Computer Literacy Necessary?

There is a good chance that, since you are reading this article online (unless someone printed it out and handed it to you), you have some hands-on computer experience. However, I do know many people for whom surfing the Web was their first contact with a computer. Many have not gone further than that. This is written for those people.

In most places of business, a computer is standard. In the bank they use computers to look up your account information. They use computers in the auto repair shop to assess your car. You can't find books in the library by looking in a card catalog—you must use a computerized database. Doctors' offices utilize computers to store patient information.

The point is this: no matter where you find employment, there is a good chance a computer will be a basic tool you will have to use. It is in your best interests to start off computer literate. It will help you get a job and it will help you advance in your career. Computer literacy does not mean you need to know how use every single piece of software you may encounter. It does not mean you need to know how to write programs or network computers. You just need to know some basics such as how to save and open a file, how to use a word processing program, and how to send and receive email, for starters. It means having some sort of level of comfort around computers rather than a look of fear and a feeling of foreboding.

How Do I Become Computer Literate?

Basic computer courses are offered by most continuing education programs. They are usually reasonably priced and conveniently scheduled. These courses can usually be found in your local school district or community college, on evenings and weekends.

Career retraining programs often offer computer courses for free or at a low fee for those who qualify. Check with your local Labor Department Office for more information on these programs.

There are also online courses and tutorials available. You don't have a computer? Don't worry. Many public libraries allow patrons to use computers with Internet access. GCF Global Learning offers free online lessons.