Two decades ago when I was involved in working with pre-service an in-service teachers, introducing ICTs into their work in teaching, we talked a lot about learning with, through and about the technology.
- Learning with – involved the use of tools such as word processors, spreadsheets,
- Learning through – involved the use of email, audio graphics, video conferencing (yes, we used it then too!)
- Learning about – involved computer studies, early programming with Seymour Papert's Logo, Basic, and some early networking classes.
I've been watching with interest the speculation about what is happening in England, with the announcement by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State (Minister) for Education, proclaiming that the current ICT curriculum in England's schools is a "mess" and must be radically revamped. From September it will be replaced by a flexible curriculum in computer science and programming, designed with the help of universities and industry.
Now there are a lot of differences between how things have been approached in England re the use of ICT in schools compared with what we've done in New Zealand – for instance, we haven't (yet) succumbed to having an 'instrumentalist' checklist of ICT skills that need to be addressed by schools – but we do have similar pressures being brought to bear regarding the impact of all the expendititure on ICT PD that we've had, and the (apparent) failure of our current school systemt to produce the numbers of students entering computer studies programmes at tertiary level as we'd like to see.
As I read through the articles from the BBC and the Guardian etc, I see lots of the familiar arguments – schools have the ICTs, but lack of teacher capability limits the way they are used etc. According to one report, out of 28,000 teachers who qualified (in the UK) in 2010, just three had a computer-related degree – wouldn't surprise me that the numbers are similar here in NZ. The claim by Gove and his mates is that pupils need to understand computers – not just how to use them.
I'd certainly not disagree with that – however, I do react to the fact that this often (as appears to be happening in the UK) polarises people and we see a sort of "either-or" scenario developing – where we should be thinking of "this..and". yes, we need to be supporting and developing more programmers and preparing young people for careers in this area (most of which don't exist yet) – but we also need to keep up our efforts in ensuring that ICTs are used routinely to collect, collaborate, create and share information and ideas as a part of the learning process (a view supported by the writer of this blog).
I guess that as long as individual teachers and schools (and many within the Ministry of Education) continue to see ICT as something 'optional' or 'additive', and to be left to the discretion of each school etc., we're never going to act with any passion or conviction about the importance it will (and is?) play in the lives of our students as they grow to become fully productive adults in society. For an interesting perspective on that take a look at this article by Thomas Friedman (of Flat Earth fame) titled So much fun. So irrelevant.
We need to somehow keep this all in perspective – and the concept of 'with', 'through' and 'about' has lasted the test of time in my view. We need to ensure we're addressing all aspects in our programmes – using ICTs in all ways imaginable to enable learning, and providing opportunities for students to learn about the technologies they use, to become empowered through understanding how they work to then contribute to their further development.