Digital Literacy vs teh 3Rs

The Australian Curriculum, unveiled to the public  has a clear focus – The 3Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. The Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, was clearly pushing ‘grammar’ on the 730Report interview with Kerry O’Brian.

Almost immediately, those on Twitter lampooned the Minister in response to her statement “That’s how children were learnt to read”. Within seconds, the hashtag stream #730Report and #ACARA was full of Tweets and Re-Tweets of the gaff. Many of course ended their comments in ‘lol’ and ‘:p’ to accentuate their expression.

It seems grammar and digital literacy are not mutually exclusive, except in the curriculum proposed – where they are explicit.

Being digitally literate means understanding how to navigate, select and participate in a hyper-connected society. Academic research suggests that grammar (good or bad) isn’t a clear indicator of young people’s ability to communicate, comprehend and be understood by others.

Grammar will not prepare students for many of the jobs that currently Australia is actually very good at. Take a look at some of the creative jobs offered in The Loop website for example.

Grammar, is heavily dependent on Linguistics – and this too is being redefined by software developers and technology. Predictive text, search engines and social networks are relevant ways to communicate – the fact that foreshorten sentences or read lolcats ( does not necessary diminish cognition, it may in fact help it. The ability to undertake short messaging during and after class may actually assist students who are ‘off the grid’ – learning paperless.

Professor Henry Jenkins, a notable figure in US based research into the culture of participation states ““Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.”

Grammar is no longer limited to phonics or key words (Dick & Dora); but embedded in online communities and sub-cultures.

Gamers; social networkers and friend-based networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Massive Multiplayer games all use an array of informal language to bind them. Grammer won’t help students de-bug code or understand emoticons and phrases used in the billions of web-pages that are produced by internet users.

ICT in the Australian Curriculum is defined as a separate component/mode of learning – it is clearly identified as a ‘thing’ to be mastered. Text formatting is not a skill or function worthy of separate assessment. This is outcome E6LCY17 – BYKT (Posted 2005 BTW) .

Focusing on desktop publishing and office automation skills of the 1990s information worker? I really wondered about this outcome – and what old-brain came up with it. What exactly is a non-automatic handwriting style? and why learn functions and not create them?

Despite the Authorities criticism of the current curricula as being constructed in vertical, isolated streams, there is little opportunity to use technology to unify learning online. Each state will be left to determine it’s own access-policy to social media and online content. While many teachers are advocating greater freedom and access to online networks and content; this curriculum is unlikely to see any relaxation in the filtration students endure.

If no one is teaching students and teachers about participation, reading, writing and using these social spaces, a back to basics philosophy, founded in grammar, will be unlikely to bridge the digital divide between teachers and students – or meet the need of this century.

Many of those teachers old enough to remember being taught grammar are also those approaching retirement. These teachers are also those awaiting technology based professional development and leadership to operationalise the other end of Rudd’s revolution – the introduction of technology in the classroom.

The Australian Curriculum and Digital Revolution sit at polar opposites. A point reinforced by Kevin Rudd, also on the 730 report when he talked about ‘back to basics‘.

This new curriculum appears to reinforce the current political determination to judge today’s youth though high stakes testing, and not their ability to create, share, negotiate and engage and connect as global citizens. Just for the record – the 3Rs are Realism, Relevance and Resonance.

Teachers are invited along with the general public to give feedback on the new curriculum, due for a 155 school pilot in 2011.


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