A Medill Reports article “‘Things are turning rioty,’ she texted from Cairo during the protests” quotes Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) Professor Ruth V. Small about the importance of teaching digital literacy skills to school-aged children.

Digital literacy means having “the ability to find, use, manage, organize, present and evaluate informatoin in digital format,” said Small who also serves as the founding director of the Center for Digital Literacy. “Even the poorest kids have access to all kinds of technologies, but there is not such a balance in the staffing of schools with digitally literate and computer-savvy administration and staff.”

The author of the article, Gulnaz Saiyed, talks about the parallels she saw in how people used social media in both the recent revolution in Egypt and violence along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2009. During the Egyptian revolution, Saiyed was in contact with her sister, who was studying in Cairo, through text messaging, Skype, and Facebook. In 2009, Saiyed taught 8th grade in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Many of my students — all of whom were Hispanic and many of whom crossed the border regularly — didn’t know anything about the safety or whereabouts of their families in Mexico” Saiyed wrote. “In those weeks, we had no clear idea what was happening.”

Though Saiyed could access information about her sister and the riots in Egypt through Google, Twitter, and Facebook, she said her students were not taught how to use these digital tools because the district didn’t see its importance.

“The State of Texas expected my students to know how to use a dictionary, but not how to use Google search,” Saiyed wrote. “The La Joya School District blocked Twitter from our schools, so I was never able to teach my students how to use it. District officials told me it might be unsafe.”

“In the light of ‘Facebook Revolution’ in Egypt, it’s clear that participation in a connected world really requires people to be very digitally literate,” Saiyed continued. “Many of my students lacked basic literacy skills — which already put them at a disadvantage. But the fact that even my top students had trouble effectively sorting through online information meant they were doubly disenfranchised and disconnected.”

Small agreed, saying that digital skills “are essential skills for every 21st century citizen.”

Medill Reports is written and produced by graduate journalism students at the Medill School at Northeastern University.

Small is a founding director of the CDL, an interdisciplinary, collaborative research and development center partnering the iSchool, School of Education, and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, to understand the impact of information, technology and media literacies on children and adults and the impact of these literacies on people, organizations, and society. As the Laura J. & L. Douglas Meredith Professor and director of the iSchool’s nationally ranked school media program, she has received two national research awards for her scholarly work, the 2001 Carroll Preston Baber Research Award from the American Library Association and the 1997 Highsmith Research Award from the American Association of School Librarians. She holds a doctorate in instructional design, development, and evaluation and has been a member of the iSchool faculty since 1989.