ARE WE PREPARED TO RAISE A

GENERATION OF DATA NATIVES?

BY LUCY KOSTURKO

ARE WE PREPARED TO RAISE A GENERATION OF DATA NATIVES?

BY LUCY KOSTURKO

BY LUCY KOSTURKO
SAS EDUCATION OUTREACH STRATEGIST

Almost every new or envisioned technology of the last decade has data as part of its DNA. From smart cars and smartwatches to home health monitors and ride-sharing apps, data has become a fundamental part of our everyday lives.

We track our calories, monitor our sleep and analyze our family’s driving patterns. Likewise, as our world becomes more complex and interconnected, our internet usage and media consumption habits generate more data, charts and graphs to interpret and analyze.

Our children are no longer just digital natives. They are data natives. Out of the gates we track their diapers, their bottles, their sleep. Then we start tracking their reading levels, their grades, their screen time. They are immersed in data every day while being raised in a world that is smart, programmable and data-rich.

In 2014, Monica Rogati coined the term “data natives,” saying “data natives expect their world to be smart and seamlessly adapt to them and their taste and habits.” Generation Z, our first generation of true data natives, reflects this sentiment. Gen Zers expect their digital experiences to be personalized, just like they expect an experience to transfer seamlessly across their collection of devices.

Gen Z, born starting in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, is also the most diverse and most educated generation we’ve ever seen, positioning it as a powerhouse for societal change – providing yet another intersection point with data.

EXPLOSION OF CAREER OPPORTUNITIES

As Gen Z percolates through society, technology responds. We’re seeing more data-rich, personalized tools aimed at simplifying life and making daily tasks more efficient. It’s never been easier to purchase and enjoy a cup of coffee, for example, or to schedule a ride to the airport.

As a byproduct, we have an unprecedented amount of data waiting to be transformed into intelligence and a persistent demand for data-minded professionals. According to Google research, both are expected to grow as data science and artificial intelligence become “mainstream fields relevant across many industries.” Not only do these positions come with impressive salaries but also a front seat to the world’s most innovative discoveries.

BUT AT WHAT COST?

As Gen Zers enjoy hours of personalized entertainment and technological conveniences, are they equally aware of the risks?

Personalization at scale relies heavily on machines, not humans. As a generation so open-minded, so passionate about societal change, they must also be wary of pigeonholing. For example, studies demonstrate when media outlets algorithmically create an echo chamber, it’s unfortunately better for business. Similarly, the most data-inclined among us – those creating our beloved innovations, gadgets and dashboards – carry significant control. Without careful consideration of diversity and inclusion, data-driven innovation becomes tailored toward the creator’s preferences, further dividing our society.

Once a tool reserved for pockets of society, such as scholarly research or government policies, data has gone mainstream. We now rely on data to create and communicate new knowledge – to operate and navigate our daily lives. Not everyone needs to become a data science professional, but being data literate is an essential skill.

SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?


Education moves slowly. Technology doesn’t. If we don’t act with urgency, our students’ ability to engage in civic life will be the casualty.

- The Stanford History Education Group

Demonstrating data literacy means effectively applying related skills to navigate daily life or develop one’s community. Can a young person read an infographic, make sense of advertising promotions or raise money for charity?

Educators can instill foundational data concepts while also creating opportunities to apply these skills across the curriculum. Often, the key to igniting interest in data literacy is connecting it to issues that students care about.


I don't think there's a kid in America, or anywhere in the world, who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their state's reading standards. They get out of bed, if they're motivated, by their own interests and their own development.

- Sir Ken Robinson, Author and Educator

Data at school most often shows up when students learn data fundamentals in the math and science classroom. Let’s expand upon these traditional intersections with education and emphasize opportunities that might surprise students. Opportunities to wield data for good include fighting social injustice, helping the environment or combating hunger. Such experiences tap into young people’s innate passion with authentic, inspirational scenarios that demonstrate the value of data.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Raising a generation takes the entire village, and the opportunity to harness the powerful characteristics that make this generation uniquely Gen Z can’t fall entirely on our educators. Here, we turn to data science professionals to tell their stories. Let’s make sure kids see how data can be used responsibly and to drive progress and innovation. Of equal importance, students need to see themselves reflected in the field of data science. Broadening participation and increasing diversity in the field is of utmost importance as we work toward narrowing societal gaps.

Finally, the myriad people creating products for Gen Z must invest and prioritize ethical AI techniques. Let’s respect and celebrate this generation’s mission to make the world a better place, but not undermine it by creating echo chambers that inhibit cooperation.

We’ve been collecting data on today’s youth since before they were born. It guides many of the decisions we make about their development, education and health. As a result, their familiarity with data provides an advantage not seen in generations before them. Let’s capitalize on this moment by working together to nurture an environment that fosters creativity and innovation – combining Gen Z’s unprecedented immersion in data with its innate passion for global good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucy Kosturko, PhD

Lucy manages product development for SAS' K-12 educational initiatives, a suite of cross-platform offerings promoting data literacy, artificial intelligence, and computer science. After graduating with a BA in psychology and computer science from Rhodes College, she earned an MS in computer science and PhD in educational psychology from North Carolina State University. Lucy lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband and two daughters.

From elementary classrooms to university campuses and beyond, SAS educates and inspires curious minds to decode data behind the challenges we face and use analytics to find solutions. Find out more about our mission to build a more data-literate future.

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

EDUCATION

THE UNSEEN VICTIMS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Devastating wildfires and floods won't be the only effects of climate change. Will the race to educate girls face another hurdle?

→ READ MORE

WELLNESS

GETTING REAL ABOUT SYNTHETICS

Can exposure to synthetic chemicals affect our health and the health of future generations? One data scientist sets out to find the answer.

→ READ MORE

Curious about SAS and the analytics that empower organizations everywhere?

GET TO KNOW US

Back to Top