Literacy and Essential Skills: Why Digital Literacy is Crucial

The Guardian recently published an article called “No place in class for digital illiterates“. The article talks about how children who lack technology literacy skills are getting left behind. Writer Gavin Dudeney talks about changing definitions of literacy that now include “digital literacy”  or the ability to use the Internet and interact with digital texts.

As I was writing The Need For Increased Integration of Technology and Digital Skills in the Literacy Field in Canada I found research that suggests that Canada’s 9 Literacy and Essential Skills may be just the beginning. One of the 9 Essential Skills is “Computer Use”. Some researchers are suggesting that this term is too narrow. Today, it is not enough for a person to know how to turn on a computer, manipulate a mouse or use a track pad or write a resume on a word processing program. Digital skills are an important part of computer use.

People need to know how to search for everyday information such as bus schedules, tax information and other important information that is part of every day living. Job seekers need to know how to search for and apply for jobs posted on the Internet and submit their resume through an online application system. More and more job application sites require users to create an account and register with a company or a service. If adults do not know how to do these things, they will fall behind.

Children who do not know how to use touch screens or the Internet may find themselves disadvantaged later on, as they try to catch up with digitally savvy peers. There are some groups and individuals who are opposed to the increased use of technology in schools. Waldorf Schools, a system of private schools with an excellent reputation, reportedly does not use any technology in its elementary grades.

As an educator, I worry about such approaches. Clearly, it works for them because they are a hugely successful network of schools. But I openly confess that I have never worked with a Waldorf school, myself. I’d love to be invited to one to see how they teach and engage with their learners. As a bit of a “tech junkie”, I have to acknowledge my bias in favour of using more technology, rather than less. I worried whether children who do not learn how to use touch screens or the Internet in their school years may find themselves disadvantaged later on, as they try to catch up with digitally savvy peers?

Having said that, I do think it is important to incorporate technology in a meaningful way that shows why we are using it, what purpose it serves and ultimately, how it benefits the learner. It is critical to make these links so that we show how digital skills can help children develop cognitively and socially so that when they grow up, their lives as adults have meaning as they find work that makes them feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to their world. It is a world that we can only dream about right now. As an educator, I ask, how do we best prepare our learners for success in five, ten or twenty years’ time? And what will “literacy and essential skills” look like a decade from now?

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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