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Literacy in the Age of Information

Mrs Lee and Katie Bova in Life Links computer centerAt first glance, Mrs. Chung-Hee Lee does not seem like a typical literacy student. The wife of a medical doctor, she has lived comfortably in the United States since emigrating here from Korea more than 35 years ago. The Lees raised two children who went on to become medical doctors themselves, and Mrs. Lee has settled nicely into her golden years.

Even with the advent of the Internet and email, Mrs. Lee’s life remained the same. That is, until her grown children moved away and her grandchildren came along. And until nearly everyone Mrs. Lee came into contact with was adept with email and used it as a primary form of communication.

Then, suddenly, Mrs. Lee started to feel a bit isolated.

She is not alone. People of her generation did not grow up with computers; by the time the information age dawned, many baby boomers were already well into their careers, with grown or nearly grown children. But technology is driving today’s world in every way—from popular culture to economic stability to global connections.

That’s why Mrs. Lee eventually decided to reach out to ProLiteracy—she no longer wishes to ignore the great influence digital literacy has on all our lives, and she hopes improving her digital literacy skills will also help improve her still faltering English speaking skills.

“When my children and grandchildren email me, I want to be able to respond,” she says. “And I want to be able to respond to them in perfect English.”

A few months ago, Mrs. Lee started coming to ProLiteracy to use resources in the Ruth J. Colvin Center for Excellence and Innovation in Adult Literacy. Twice a week, she comes to the center to learn how to type on a keyboard, speak conversational English, and learn vocabulary related to the Internet and music—her hobby. In November, she sent her first email to her daughter.

“She was so proud of me,” says Mrs. Lee. “And I don’t want to stop. I want to keep on going and keep on learning. I don’t want to get left behind.”

Her increasingly competent computer skills have also improved her speaking skills and bolstered her confidence. A few months ago, if Mrs. Lee needed to make a household call to the cable company or bank, she would have shied away. Now, she has the courage to make those calls without feeling insecure or inferior.

“Mrs. Lee was driven by technology as a tool to access the world of information, and this in turn drove her to improve her basic literacy,” says Katie Bova, who works with Mrs. Lee in ProLiteracy’s Colvin Center. “Integrating basic literacy with digital literacy is a one-stop shop that ultimately has dual benefits.”

Other seniors around the nation are also honing their digital literacy skills. The number of seniors actively using the Internet has increased by more than 55 percent in the last six years. The growth of women 65 and older using computers has outpaced men by 6 percentage points.

So it makes sense that now, when Mrs. Lee goes home to tell her husband what she’s learned, he asks, “Can I go with you too?”

ProLiteracy started the Colvin Center for this precise reason—to provide supplemental services such as digital literacy instruction and professional development opportunities directly to community members and practitioners and to apply best practices gained from more than 50 years of experience in the adult literacy field to engage the community in our effort to improve literacy levels.

Help us sustain this great resource so that we can continue to reach all those like Mrs. Lee in every community in the country. Donate by calling 1-888-926-7323 (READ) or visiting our giving web pages.


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