As I walked down the street in front of the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania, I overheard a conversation between two women. One lady asked “Did you get it?”, the other lady answered “No, I was told that I have to go on the web”. I suppose this could be to check her account balance, make a doctor’s appt, apply for a job, get a form, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Just about everything (except Philadelpia’s own SEPTA, who seems to be stuck in the mid 70’s – will they ever be able to accept credit cards at the token machine?) is moving online. Technology has made it easier for a company to disseminate information but technology alone has not made it easier for an end user to get the information being disseminated. Here are a few barriers to information that are common to Philadelphians:
1) Access to the Internet is not FREE – My internet access bills come in THREE shapes and sizes. T-mobile costs 35 a month to cover internet access on my cell phone. Clear covers internet access for the laptop and luckily COMCAST used to cover my access at home. Together, that is 130 a month just to access the internet anywhere, anytime. But Philadelphia International Airport blocks other sites at the airport so they can charge $5.95 per day just because consumers are a captive audience.
2) Philadelphia’s illiteracy rate – Philadelphia has ranks at the bottom of the pool when it comes to literacy (i.e. the ability to read). The city has a 21-percent illiteracy rate and nearly 50-percent high school dropout rate. The internet REQUIRES that the end-user not only be able to read but interpret was read into a decision matrix of – push this button, go to the page, enter values into this drop down. If we have a city where the average adult can’t interpret what is on the screen, then the internet can not disseminate information to this group of users.
3) The Education system – I am a product of the public school system but these schools are not changing quickly enough to keep up with the changes in technology. The schools are not teaching children computer skills to navigate the vast ocean of information and separate the good information from the bad. I taught Computer Information Science 101 for Harcum College and one of the assignments was to conduct a web search. Half of the students clicked at the top of the search page not knowing those links were advertisements not search results. Also, a quarter of the students lost the focus navigating through the pages.
It does not matter if we are the most connected city (via WirelessPhiladelphia ) if we are not addressing the creation of the Technology Worker. My vision of Philadelphia’s future has a Universal Service Fee (a small tax) on cell phone plans which cover internet through the phone lowering the access cost,. The internet is now essential service to conduct our everyday lives. Philadelphia’s future also has decreased the literacy rate by tying graduation to an internship in the new energy fields or the health care technology fields and a 50% discount to a local university (marketing ploy ) like Community College of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia has a vast number of social programs for at risk youth (Philadelphia Academies, Squash Smarts, Mural Arts Program, Philadelphia Youth Network, JobCorps) and a great number programs for talented scholars (inroads, upwardbound) but the school district must do a better job of reaching the parents to keep them informed of all the education options for their youth (via social networks, email, newsletters, parent-teacher conferences, scorecards..). It was my mom’s job to navigate me through the public school system. Now I am the mom where it is a constant information search to find suitable education environments (that I can afford) for my three talented children.
The reason I chose the cyber charter school systems is that it allowed my children to learn at their own pace. There is no reason this concept can’t be implemented in the public school system. There is enough e-learning websites (see Chicago’s Office of Information and Technology Services list ) like my personal favorite http://www.e-learningforkids.org, that on-line self-paced learning can be brought into the public school system. The technology worker of the 21st century REQUIRES the ability to conduct on-line self paced learning to keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape.
As a business owner, why does this matter to me? What I teach other business owners is that EMPLOYEES = PROFIT. As more labor is added to the workflow, more goods are made and eventually sold. The profit is the difference between revenue generated through sales and the cost of goods sold. If the public education system (funded by your generous tax dollars) is giving your employees skills to work effectively then your business has lower training costs. Now these Technology Workers are your companies CAPACITY to create goods and services. The combined sum of this CAPACITY creates a vibrant business community and is the capital needed to fuel job growth. It is jobs that lower the crime rates, emergency room visits and social ills of society. Newman Networks not only disseminates information but our goal is 2010 is to play a major role in creating the technology worker for the city of Brotherly Love – Stay tuned!