by Daniel Schere

Using the computer just got easier for 19 students from Forsyth Tech | @Daniel_Schere

We don’t think about it, but our ability to complete some of the most simple tasks exists simply because we can sit down with a computer and make a few clicks. Such ease comes with living in the information age. But for the economically disadvantaged who don’t have internet access, this technological intuition that many take for granted must be learned. Last Friday, that changed for 19 adult students at Forsyth Tech.

To address the challenges of computer illiteracy in Winston-Salem, Forsyth Tech teamed up with AT&T, WinstonNet and the Durham-based Kramden Institute to begin a pilot program aimed at teaching basic computer skills to low-income adults. About one-third of American households do not have internet access.

The project is part of an effort to bring North Carolina’s Next Generation Network to Winston-Salem. The network is a collaboration between six municipalities and four universities that are trying to bring comprehensive broadband network coverage to the state.

The students who graduated from the program on Friday were the program’s first. They all received multiple three-hour sessions of training, and were not allowed to miss a class. At the end of the program, and as a part of their commitment, they were required to put $50 toward purchasing a laptop.

Spokeswoman Martha Murphy said that this summer AT&T donated a $5,000 grant to WinstonNet to help get the program off the ground. She said a daytime program and an evening program were offered this summer.

At the ceremony, councilman Dan Besse addressed the graduates and read a proclamation declaring Sept. 12 “Digital Literacy Awareness Day.”

“As you know, it’s getting more difficult to engage fully in our society as a citizen, unless you have both access to the internet and the skills to use it,” he said. “Even if you have physical access, it doesn’t help unless you have the skills and the training tools to do it.”

WinstonNet president Dennis Newman said in his speech that computer skills are necessary to succeed in the world today, but not always enough.

“You have officially taken the steps to cross what we refer to the digital divide,” he said. “You can now fully participate in this online world and have the same opportunities, same experiences as so many others have.”

Career support director Ron Berra noted that, in order to do things as simple as get consumer information or health information, you must be computer and internet literate. He also discussed the other component of the course, which involves job training in addition to the basic computer skills.

“We live in a digital age and an information age, and so the purpose of the course was to help students use a computer effectively in a job search,” he said. “Today that’s becoming more and more of a necessity.”

Among the 19 who graduated was Bobby Wilson, who was a member of Forsyth Tech’s first graduating class in 1962. Wilson, now 70, had never used or owned a laptop prior to taking the course.

“Keeping yourself in tune with today’s subject matter is important so that you do not fall behind,” he said. “A lot of my friends ask me, so how did you do that? Especially my young friends who are in Middle School and all of those children.”

After the students had received their certificates, they sat by laptops set up onstage and were given instructions from Kramden staff as their first foray into computer literacy. !