Digital literacies and the bottom line

There’s a bottom line in teaching – the things we must absolutely teach, no matter what. I’m questioning whether digital literacies should be part of it.

Here’s my story:

I know the theory of digital natives has been discredited, but if it did exist, I would be one. I am out of the age range for it: at 41 I have not lived in a world where computers have been ubiquitous all my life.

And yet they have been ubiquitous for me.

My father, a mathematician at Birmingham University, showed my a computer when I was five – a punch card machine in the maths department. We had a BBC Micro in the house soon after. An Acorn Archimedes by the time I was a teenager. In my first job when I was eighteen I  used Apple Macs in one department, PCs in another and Sun workstations in the third.

When it came to teaching, using computers just seemed natural and I was often frustrated at the lack of resources for teaching computing. If only we had more computers, we could do better ICT teaching and give our children better life chances… That’s what I thought. And I still do – having the best equipment and being taught how to use it has to be a good thing.

I’m also sold on the argument that most of the jobs we are preparing our children for don’t exist today – that was certainly true of my schooling. Computers were limited in my education, yet my peers from school days include web designers, Microsoft and Google employees and even a guy who designs mobile phone networks for entire countries.

None of these people were taught digital literacies, and yet all of them are fully digitally literate. In fact, I would argue that none of them were taught anything to prepare them for a particular job. They were taught by teachers who were passionate about their subjects and keen that their students would learn their subjects to the highest level possible.

It seems to me that success at a particular job is not defined by the particular subjects you have been taught, but by how well you have been taught those subjects – just the very act of learning something to a high level gives you the ability to succeed.

So I am still going to teach my students about ICT and computing. I am a primary teacher so I have the joy of teaching other stuff too. What’s more I’m going to teach them to the highest level I can so that can be as digitally literate as possible. And as good at English and maths as possible too. But as a school leader is it right for me to make all my teachers conform to my image. Surely, if I have an art specialist I should encourage them to teach their students to the highest level in art as possible. And likewise for all other teachers.

I’m not saying that we should ignore the bottom line of teaching sound grammar, punctuation, spelling, maths, reading, and so on… I’m questioning how much we put in that bottom line, including digital literacies. I wonder if by teaching to our strengths, teachers can enjoy what they do and their students can far surpass the bottom line.

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