Time for change

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 November, 2010, 12:00am

One of the most significant changes taking place in the classroom is the increasing attention being paid to digital literacy.

'Changing trends in good international schools are reflective of any good school,' says Ann McDonald, principal of the Kellett School, which continues to follow a framework based on the National Curriculum for England and Wales, adjusted for its Asian setting. 'Responding to the exponential growth of the digital age is equally challenging for national and international schools worldwide.'

Educational priorities are changing, and digital literacy is being added to the traditional subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic (3Rs). When choosing schools, parents should take a good look at how seriously they are responding to evolving technologies.

'The ICT [information and communication technologies] revolution is changing the face of education,' McDonald says. 'It is not replacing the tradition of the 3Rs. Rather, it's enhancing the power of the learner in the classroom. Through a keyboard, the world is literally at our fingertips.'

Just three decades ago, computers were what McDonald calls 'monstrous machines' that could sometimes occupy an entire building. They have now practically become extensions of our fingers. 'As an adolescent, my generation spent hours after school on the telephone talking to friends, catching up and analysing the day,' McDonald says. 'Today, the ring around has been replaced by on-line conversations with numerous contributors. Chat rooms, Facebook, blogging and Twitter are the new social order, and they are changing our world.'

For schools, these changes are presenting new challenges and opportunities. McDonald says: 'The greatest challenge to educators is the knowledge that our current students will enter a workplace in which digital skills yet to be discovered will be the norm, raising the question: 'Just how do you future-proof the students of today?''

First, teachers need to be able to master the new technologies themselves.

'Educators are taking on new and potentially greater responsibilities than ever before,' McDonald says. 'Not only are they themselves having to rapidly learn the skills to support their students' use of technology in education, they are also shouldering the responsibility of teaching responsible digital citizenship. Just as parents are looking to schools for leadership in the areas of digital education, schools in return are looking to parents for support in their children's responsible use of ICT. Arguably, the home-school partnership has never been more critical.'

Teachers need to do more than simply teach their students how to use new technologies. They also need to help them understand how to use them responsibly. The potential of ICT in education is 'unbelievably exciting', McDonald says. 'However, as with any powerful tool, it comes with the challenge for its responsible use,' she says. 'With educating students for the future comes not only the need for teaching digital skills and knowledge, but also teaching students to appropriately explore and exploit all its dimensions in a safe and responsible manner.'