7 Digital literacy and twenty-first-century skills
How digital technologies are referred to in the primary school curriculum has changed significantly in recent years and varies from country to country. Terminology varies too and confusingly, people often use different terms to refer to the same thing. Some refer to IT (information technology), some to ICT (information and communication technology) and others to computing or computer science. In recent years there has been a global shift towards the discipline of computer science, in countries including India, the USA, Australia, England and South Korea (University of Edinburgh, 2016). As a result language has shifted and you may see terms such as ‘computational thinking’, ‘logical reasoning’ and ‘algorithms’ used in primary schools.
The development of children’s ‘digital literacy’ is regarded as key to developing what are often referred to as ‘twenty-first century skills’ (ATC21S, 2012; Binkley et al., 2012). These twenty-first century skills are not tied to particular subject areas, but apply across the curriculum and include skills such as digital information literacy, collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking (ITL Research, 2011).
Digital literacy can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but Hague and Payton’s (2010) definition provides an effective summary:
Digital literacy involves critically engaging with technology and developing a social awareness of how a number of factors including commercial agendas and cultural understandings can shape the ways in which technology is used to convey information and meaning.
It means being able to communicate and represent knowledge in different contexts and to different audiences (for example, in visual, audio or textual modes). This involves finding and selecting relevant information, critically evaluating and re-contextualising knowledge and is underpinned by an understanding of the cultural and social contexts in which this takes place.
Digital literacy gives young people the ability to take advantage of the wealth of new and emerging opportunities associated with digital technologies whilst also remaining alert to the various challenges technology can present.
In short, digital literacy is the ‘savvyness’ that allows young people to participate meaningfully and safely as digital technology becomes ever more pervasive in society.
ATC21S (2012) defined ten twenty-first century skills, which fit into four broad categories: ways of thinking; ways of working; tools for working; and ways of living in the world (Figure 8). The successful development of these skills does not rely on the technologies alone, but on the digital literacy of the educators making use of ICT and their capacity to engage with new ways of teaching and learning.
How well do you think school prepares children to live and work in an ever-changing society?
Now watch this video of Grant Lichtman, a US-based former teacher and senior leader sharing what he has learned about teaching twenty-first-century skills in schools:
Next, you will consider how digital literacy impacts on how children read and write.