learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Learning.now is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom.
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September122006

Happy Belated International Literacy Day

Amidst the fog of chaos I experienced last week during my move to DC, I neglected to give an appropriate shout-out on September 8 in honor of International Literacy Day.

What is International Literacy Day? On September 8, 2000, the United Nations passed a resolution in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of milestones for cutting world poverty in half by the year 2015. Among these goals was the desire that “children everywhere, boys and girls alike, would be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys would have equal access to all levels of education, which requires a renewed commitment to promote literacy for all.” According to the UN, more than 100 million children worldwide have never enrolled in school. An addition 770 million adults are classified as illiterate, though many suspect this number to be much higher.

Three years later, the UN launched United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), a period of time in which UN members states would commit to improving literacy in their countries. Each September 8th is now honored as International Literacy Day, with this year’s theme being Literacy Sustains Development. “Literacy is not only a positive outcome of development processes but also a lever of change and an instrument for achieving further social progress,” notes the UNESCO
website
honoring the day. UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, in his official address that day, emphasized the importance of rethinking the notion of literacy in the 21st century, beyond basic frameworks of reading and writing:

Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable.

In parallel to its literacy-related efforts, the UN recently held a pair of presidential level world summits on Internet policy - the 2003 and 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The goal of these summits, both of which I had the opportunity to attend as a US delegate, was to bridge the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds (or, using UN parlance, between the North and South). Literacy was on the minds of many attendees, in particular those participants who represented educational and academic organizations. But some of us left the event disappointed because so much time was spent on technical issues of Internet governance that other policy goals related to literacy and the digital divide received less focus than originally intended.

UNESCO Director-General Matsuura and others have spoken eloquently regarding the importance information technology in literacy and lifelong learning. It’s something that many of you, I’m sure, will attest to from personal experience in the classroom: that encouraging students to use technology in creative ways reinforces literacy skills while building an ongoing love for learning. I’m a product of this type of learning myself - I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if it weren’t for the exposure I had to all those TRS-80s and Ataris when I was a kid. And it wasn’t just all the (seemingly) cool games that existed for them - it was the ability to learn how to program and create my own games, or even just learning how to use a word processor and write more legibly, so adults could better understand the ideas I was trying to communicate.

For years now, we’ve seen many debates in how to proceed in terms of defining literacy for the 21st century. Many of these debates have gotten tied up in arguments over whether we should emphasize the use of technology more, or go “back to basics” and focus on reading and writing. To me, though, they’re just part of a spectrum of skills that all people should develop. Literacy in the 21st century is all about participation: the ability to critically consume and create knowledge for the betterment of ourselves, our families and our communities. Whether it’s teaching an adult to read for the first time, or teaching a teenager that there’s more to video production than imitating episodes of Jackass on YouTube.com, we all need to work together in making sure that everyone has the requisite skills to help make the world a better place. These skills, technical or otherwise, don’t exist in a vacuum. We need to help people improve their basic literacy skills, their technology skills, and their media literacy skills. Not to make them better consumers, but better citizens - citizens of their community, of their country and the world at large.

Happy belated International Literacy Day. -andy

Filed under : Events

Responses

Andy
Thanks for your comments. I continue to struggle with a definition of literacy (information, digital, technology etc). I also try to have a good 21st century response to teachers in our school who want to dismiss the use of technology to support literacy in favour of the book, pen and paper.

Can I share a quote from Negroponte’s book from 1995 ‘Being Digital’:

“Computing is not about computers. It is about life……. We are discussing a fundamental cultural change: Being digital is not just being a geek or Internet surfer or mathematically savvy child. It is actually a way of living and is going to impact absolutely everything. The way you work, the way you study, the way you amuse yourself, the way you communicate among your friends, with your kids……Personal computers will make our future adult population simultaneously more mathematically able and more visually literate. Ten years from now, teenagers are likely to enjoy a much richer panorama of options because the pursuit of intellectual achievement will not be tilted so much in favor of the bookworm, but instead cater to a wider range of cognitive styles, learning patterns, and expressive behaviors.”

I identify with your view of literacy now being about participation and also the need to look at why we are bothering with all of this anyway which is to improve ourselves and the world around us. In terms of learning styles I think we should be able to offer choices and opportunities that include multimedia as needed and this does come under the banner of ‘literacy’ in today’s world.

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