September 29, 2011 1:36 pm

Canadians think kids should learn digital literacy skills in primary school

Canadians believe that kids should be taught digital literacy skills at home or in primary school, according to a new poll by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of Global News.

When asked when kids should begin learning digital literacy, 34 per cent said it should be taught in Grades 1-3. Eighteen per cent would wait until Grades 4-6 but only 3 per cent thought it should be part of Kindergarten or preschool. The largest number — 37 per cent of respondents said that it was up to parents to educate kids.

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This question was part of Canada’s Pulse, an annual poll done for Global News.

So what exactly is digital literacy?

Educators suggest that there are two basic pieces of the concept: technical proficiency and critical thinking.

“Really at its heart, digital literacy is critical thinking as it applies to technology,” said Jane Tallim, vice-president of the Media Awareness Network, a non-profit organization that promotes digital and media literacy education.

Those critical thinking skills can’t be taught early enough, according to Farah Rahemtula, an award-winning Grade 3 teacher at Joyce Public School in Toronto. When asked when kids should start learning digital literacy, she exclaimed, “I think right away! Kids exist in this world, and they’re consuming digital texts all the time. They’re consuming digital texts from the moment they are born.”

She has put her thinking into practice. In her classroom, an English lesson might include a shadow play, filmed and edited by students and put online, a blogging exercise, or a stop motion animation created by the students to tell a story.

She also teaches some basic skills about how to evaluate websites. In a lesson, students might learn how a “.com” web address differs from a “.edu” or “.org.” and how the information on those websites might differ.

“There’s a lot of information that comes at students and it’s our job to make sure they really assess what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense, and what’s safe and what’s not safe,” she said.

“It’s a gradual process,” said Tallim. “You’re not going to hit a five-year old with a cyber code of conduct.”

Her organization publishes lesson plans for teachers to use in their classrooms. These might include having the children make masks to teach them how avatars work in the online world and how to interact politely with people online, or a game that teaches 5-year olds how websites are created with a purpose, often profit, in mind.

This way, children are gradually taught not just online etiquette, but to question what they see in the digital environment, just as students are taught to question what they read in magazines or see on television.

But integrating technologies into everyday lessons carries some benefits. “We don’t teach any longer with slates and sticks on the ground, we don’t do that in North America anymore because we teach to build citizens that have the right skills and the right knowledge to be successful in the future,” said Rahemtula.

“And that means teaching them in the tools that they are comfortable with, because these are digital natives, so they are comfortable with computers, they are comfortable with technology, and giving them the opportunity to assess a technology, to use a technology, to understand it and to use it, to best understand the world.”

 

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