Teaching technology literacy to the next generation

Teaching Technology Literacy Is Your Problem

Your kids need your help. With something that you might not have thought about. Nobody is going to teach them the skills that they need for dealing with the digital future that they’ll live in, unless you do.

Schools teach things that can be tested. If a concept can’t be expressed as a multiple-choice test question that can be graded by an optical scanner, then that concept is out of the scope of the education system. Schools will teach your kids to read and write, and to solve trivial arithmetic puzzles. But they won’t teach your kids the most crucial skill for negotiating the workplaces of the future: how to decide what problems are worth solving. Your kids will be tested on their ability to memorize multiplication tables and to perform long division, but not when and how to effectively use Wolfram Alpha or Mathematica or even a calculator.

Schools also are not going to teach your kids Internet literacy skills. It’s not easy to include advanced web search skills on a standardized test, so don’t expect schools to cover that. They’re too busy preparing kids to answer riddles that are spoon fed to them so that the school can compete for funding. Don’t expect your kids to learn about why one web site ranks higher than another one in search results. Don’t plan on your kids learning the skills to discern the difference between a peer-reviewed scientific article and a conspiracy theory. Don’t pretend that schools will pass on values for how to behave like an adult on the Internet. But our kids have to learn these things somewhere or else we’ll all suffer the consequences. Maybe if you’re lucky, your kids will get a few lessons on avoiding online sexual predators. Or maybe not. From a school’s point of view, it’s not a big priority.

A lot of different factors contribute to the failure of schools to provide the technology literacy skills that children need for the future. One factor is that there are people who are very opposed to the teaching of higher-order reasoning in schools, or anything other than “the basics”. Another is that performance-based funding forces schools to teach to the standardized tests. Tradition is also a factor, and so your kids will learn to write in cursive in school but they probably won’t learn to type. Even though they’ll probably spend eight hours a day typing once they graduate but they’ll only use cursive when they sign their name on the touch screen at the cash register at the grocery store.

But one of the biggest factors is that the teachers themselves are not experts in technology. They’re experts in education. This means that technology lessons in schools will always be inadequate and outdated even when they’re offered, because technology moves too fast for educators to follow while also running their classrooms. The guy teaching computer programming to high school students in a public school is not a computer programming expert, or else he would be making tens of thousands of dollars more per year as a professional software developer.

The result of all of this is that technology literacy is something that you have to teach to your kids yourself, becuase it’s just out of the scope of the education system. Just like it’s your responsibility to pass on your values on ethics and morality and possibly religion, it’s also your problem to equip your kids to navigate a world where computers and networks are ubiquitous. If you don’t, then nobody will. There will be a lot of adults in the future who will be at a significant disadvantage because they lack these critical skills. Don’t let your kids be among them.

Image credit: Brad Flickinger