Like Steven Spielberg’s movie Minority Report, the pandemic has catapulted us into a futuristic world for which some have been better prepared than others.
The digital age has, of course, been a creeping reality for some time. So much so that many of us might be surprised to learn from the European Commission’s Education and Training platform that more than 1 in 5 young people across the EU fail to reach a basic level of digital skills.
Now, in light of the current crisis and the drastic changes taking place across the board, the EU is not only urging educational institutions to get up to speed on digital literacy, but investment in digital education is a condition for accessing its multi-billion euro rescue package.
Digital literacy, according to a slew of experts, will shortly be as important as knowing how to read and write, with the implication that the digitally illiterate will soon find the world as alien as the illiterate possibly did in days gone by.
According to the American Library Association, the term “digital literacy” means, “The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”
While many people know how to search for information online, for example, there is clearly a gulf between those who know how to evaluate it and those who take it at face value, resulting in a dangerous proliferation of fake news.
According to Stephen Hope, Computer Science teacher at King’s College Murcia, “A trend across society appears to be an increase in people’s capacity to search for information yet a decrease in their capacity to critically analyse this information and make rational choices. We are trying to break the mould with our Internet safety, advanced search skills and critical thinking within all of the ICT and Computer Science lessons,” he says.
There is also an element of responsibility to digital literacy, which means, beyond multi-media and coding expertise, knowing what to post and what not to post online.
Together, the complete digital skill set is designed to make us “streetwise” out there in cyberspace – that netherworld that could previously be held at arm’s length, but which is now very much our world and unlikely to become otherwise anytime soon.
As Sharmila Gandhi, Acting Head of Primary at King’s College Alicante, says, “Digital learning is all about embracing change and the world is changing so rapidly, schools need to ensure that children have the skills to live and thrive in it.”
Citing educational reformer John Dewey – “If we teach today’s children the way we taught them yesterday, then we are robbing them of tomorrow!” Sharmila adds, “Most students are more digitally literate than the teachers in the classroom but our role as educators is to ensure that they use digital tools safely to direct their own learning and take responsibility for shaping their future.”
To ensure the next generations have the requisite digital literacy, the EU’s Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) outlines a vision for high quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in Europe and stresses the need for stronger cooperation at a European level to learn from the current crisis which is seeing technology being used on an unprecedented scale.
But while the need for digital literacy has been thrust upon us, the need to safeguard traditional literacy and other kinds of learning also becomes a matter of some urgency, particularly when students are small.
This is a balance that has been meticulously studied at King’s Infant School Chamartín, where, Head teacher Rachel Davies, says, “The question you have to ask is, am I just using the technology because I can, or is it adding something?”
King’s College Madrid first introduced technology way back in 1983 when it really did seem like science fiction. Using an Apple computer, a school survey was carried out, causing much excitement among Maths enthusiasts. Shortly afterwards the school signed up to the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project
During the 1990s, there was an idea that technology might be best kept out of the classroom, but this was soon dismissed in favour of using it as a tool that would broaden the students’ scope without detracting in any way from traditional skills. In recognition of this considered approach, King’s won the British International Schools Award in January, 2017.
With regard to English Literature, a subject in which the written word is naturally ‘king’, technology, if used correctly, can actually help to keep it alive and relevant.
“I do find that digital resources allow engagement with writers, sometimes quite directly, for appreciative readers,” says Paul McNally, who teaches English at King’s College Madrid. “Students can follow writers they admire on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram and there is even the possibility of contacting writers more easily, via email or via their official websites, as well as commenting on their work via sites such as Goodreads or Amazon reviews.”
Paul adds that digital literacy is also a useful tool when it comes to students exploring their own potential as writers. “There are so many ways and means to encourage youngsters who wish to write fairly seriously to give it a go,” he says.
Boosting enthusiasm for the written word further, a couple of writers gave a talk to students last year, introducing them to Novel Writing Month, a daunting but straightforward challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. “It caused quite a stir in our literature group!” Paul recalls.