Kids can't use computers?
There's been a fairly long post by a teacher-cum-network manager in an English school going around entitled Kids Can't Use Computers... And This Is Why It Should Worry You. I didn't pay much attention until my colleague Carla Casilli also pointed me towards it. You should go and read it as it's informative and entertaining, mirroring my experience as a teacher and senior leader in English schools.
This has happened before. It is not a new phenomenon. A hundred years ago, if you were lucky enough to own a car then you probably knew how to fix it. People could at least change the oil, change the tyres, or even give the engine a tune-up. I’ve owned a car for most of my adult life and they’re a mystery to me. As such I am dependent on salesmen to tell me which one to buy, mechanics to tell me what’s wrong and then fix it for me and as technology progresses I am becoming dependent on satellite navigation as well. I doubt my five year-old son will even need to learn to drive. It’ll be done for him by his car. When he needs to get it fixed he’ll be directed to mechanic that pays the most for on-line advertising. When he wants to stop for a bite to eat he’ll be directed to the fast-food outlet that pays the most for on-line advertising. When he needs to recharge his dilithium crystals he’ll be directed to the filing station that pays the most for on-line advertising.I want the people who will help shape our society in the future to understand the technology that will help shape out society in the future. If this is going to happen, then we need to reverse the trend that is seeing digital illiteracy exponentially increase. We need to act together, as parents, as teachers, as policy makers. Lets build a generation of hackers. Who’s with me?
While I appreciate the sentiment here (and I absolutely agree that kids should know a bit of code and the basics of computer use) I'm not sure we should 'build a generation of hackers' in the way that seems to be intended in the post. There's a difference between (for example) computational thinking and the procedural tasks involved in the actual use of devices. The latter may also be lacking, but it's the former that's the most important. If by 'a generation of hackers' the author's talking about a hacker mindset then yes, OK.
I have this grand unifying theory of everything involving stacks (heavily influenced, it has to be said, by Vinay Gupta's work). I'll flesh this out more when I can express it better, but its got a lot to do with the things you pay attention to. Of course, everyone can't pay attention to everything, but everyone can have a well-rounded education. I suppose it's the equivalent of having at least a Wikipedia stub level of understanding/knowledge about important stuff that can then be built upon as and when required.
So I suppose what I'm saying is that I agree there's a level of technological literacy lacking in the examples given in the post. However, while that needs to be remedied to a certain degree, I think we at least need to celebrate the fact that we've got computing devices that don't require specialist knowledge to use. At least part of the problem with the situation mentioned in the article is that an artificial environment has been created by:
- Lack of parental knowledge
- Over-zealous filtering
- The culture of the teaching profession
- Outdated equipment
- Poor curricula
- The status of 'technical people' in schools
There is no 'them and us' here, just people with varying levels of technological/digital literacy. It's not a binary; literacy is a condition not a threshold. I don't think there's an easy solution to the problems mentioned in the post. They're not simply technical problems, but social and cultural ones too. Instead of winding the clock back we should probably think about what it means to be 'literate' in 2013. I don't think it's the same as 2003 - and certainly not 1993. Literate practices change over time and it often takes a while to identify (and legitimate) new ones.