Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kids, Computers and Literacy Education

Our crackpot government here in Oz has decided to steer us through the rough economic times by putting new buildings in schools, whether they want them or not. This is also supposed to resolve a supposed literacy crisis. After all, buildings teach people to read, don't they? And they keep builders in work. And if the builders are building libraries, then the builders also will undoubtedly become more literate, won't they?
In my granddaughters' primary school they built a new library. The school already had a library in a demountable building, so the government thought that the fair thing would be to take the old one away. It was pointed out to the powers that be that this would hardly be a nett gain for the school, and to avoid adverse publicity in this case and numerous others, they agreed to let them keep it. So then the school had to decide what to do with it. Various suggestions were mooted, including using it as a music room. In the end, they decided to keep it as the library, and to use the new, larger building as a computer centre.
So there will be no increased capacity to store books and other reading materials to increase literacy. And they are confining computers to an oldfashioned enclosed facility just at the time when laptops are becoming affordably cheap and new devices like Kindles, iPads and even phones are making it possible for the computer to be on the classroom desk as part of the equipment of literacy.
It is noteworthy that the kids have lessons in which they learn computing, rather than using computers as tools for learning literacy, numeracy or anything else that can be learned. The old computer lab seems such an 80s concept. Recently my elder granddaughter had a day off school sick, but not so terribly sick. She loves to write but for some reason simply cannot spell. We spent the whole day working on a Powerpoint presentation about Uluru, which they had been set for homework. She had not realised that you can type up your script on a computer, and then correct all the spelling so that it comes out perfect. So what do they do on these computers at school?
I have a horrible feeling that they are learning computing in the same way that some of the less literate early medieval scribes learned writing, copying letters out by sight with little or no understanding of the meaning of what they were writing. Now why didn't the government, instead of buying them a building, buy each of them a laptop and hire some inservice training people to get the teachers up to date with their knowledge of computers and how to fly them? Oh, I forgot. This was not really about education. It was builders that were going to be out of work.

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