Digital Natives and Analogue Missionaries (3/6)

In the first post I mentioned a report called 21stcentury learning environments and digital literacy written by Sir Peter Gluckman who is, amongst many things, the government’s chief science advisor.

I have two things to say about this “report”.

The first thing I would like to say:

If you hear the words “report” and “Sir” you might expect a substantial piece of well-researched work.  In fact it is four pages of unsourced generalisations, about a page of which is made up of quotes from Gluckman’s previous report.  I feel like the headline for this could equally well have read: How much money is the chief science advisor paid to waste our time?

Here’s what the report says (I paraphrase):

  • Page One: Kids use heaps of digital stuff and it may or may not be affecting how their brains are getting wired up, but we’re not really sure. 
  • Page Two: Now that we can scan brains while kids play with things we can design better education or maybe not, but anyway we should plan schools for stuff we don’t even know about yet
  • Page Three: Teaching should not be about imparting facts, it should be about helping learners to critically evaluate information and organise it.  (Stuff about teaching Science.)
  • Page Four: The better off get a better deal than the poor in all of this.  We should probably address this.

Concluding Remarks:

…if the ‘digital native’ indeed has different forms of brain development and learning, and whose social skills develop differently as a result of the very different ways in which children interact with each other in the digital world, then even more fundamental changes in education will be required (I can’t get into that here though).

Without the slightest bit of arrogance I would like to tell you that if the government had paid me $100 I could have gone on the internet and then written this report for them in one day so generalised and vague it is.

The second thing I would like to say:

The future will need a different type of teacher? 

That teacher is already here.  They were born in 1990 and they are completely comfortable with the digital world.  Even someone like me – born in the 70s – can cope. 

Teachers will still need to impart facts because  – and this may shock you – some teenagers don’t like cruising the internet for information about chemistry.  On the upside teachers are already heavily focused on the idea of helping students to evaluate and organise information.

Another academic commentator in the article states of the little children:

“Multi-tasking, for example playing on the internet, texting, listening to music and watching a YouTube video all at once . . . these things influence the way and speed in which you process information.”

All at once?  That’s not multi-tasking – that’s doing four things badly.

Let’s face it.  Schools can’t really plan for the future of technology.  When I was at primary school there was not a single personal computer or cellphone or internet site in existence for the general public.  In 2050 nobody has the slightest notion what kind of world we will be dealing with.  Of course we should use the tools technology gives us as we move toward 2050, but the important skills are going to be: how to get good information, how to evaluate and organise that information, and how to be flexible and creative.

Of course, most of this report is about the 4 in 5 students who will be fine anyway.

Here I raise the issue of the ‘digital divide’, the gap between those who can benefit from digital technology and those who cannot. This is not simply an issue of being able to afford a computer and internet access – digital disadvantage can arise from low literacy and interpretative skills that prevent proper use or evaluation of the opportunities that the technology can provide.

Which would be the problem of the one in five students the government tells us are being failed by their schools.  One solution to this problem will be the arrival of a new kind of school in New Zealand in 2014.

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