Literacy Today: Making the Shift Happen
Written in collaboration with Jeff Plaman.
So, what does it mean to be literate in this century? Traditionally, literacy meant being able to read and write, fostering effective communication. Over the last couple of decades the concept of literacy expanded to include such concepts as media, information, visual, technology, global, academic, environmental, social (personal and interpersonal), health, and cultural literacy. As we close out the first decade of the 21st century, the need to examine literacy is reemerging as a result of the massive changes in the way we create, share, access, and use information.
We are clearly living in the “Information Age,” having shifted from the “Industrial Age” several decades ago. Yet, the core operating model of our schools has remained pretty much unchanged during this shift. Sure, we have more computers in school these days, but commonly they’re used only as information portals which make them the most expensive books in school. As schools struggle to catch up with the Information Age by expanding access to computers and networks, some thinkers are starting to define the dawn of a new age-the Shift Age. This new age is characterized most by rapid change on a global scale and is facilitated by ubiquitous information and communication technologies. It’s no longer just about knowing how to find, evaluate, and use information with technology. Being literate in the Shift Age means learning to create, innovate, collaborate, think critically, and communicate in a compelling way, using a variety of digital tools in the process. This doesn’t mean that the other types of literacy are irrelevant. In some ways they are more important than ever. But, since the only thing certain today is rapid, unpredictable change on a global scale, our educational goals should address these increasingly important “21st century” skills.
At ISB, the process of mapping the EC-12 curriculum has helped us focus on the common threads in our core subjects and address the role of technology in our unit planning. However, the 21st Century Skills Framework model suggests that all core subjects also address the interdisciplinary topics of global awareness, financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, and health literacy as well as the need to provide opportunities for creative problem-solving, content creation, and communication using digital technology. This is the challenge for education today, and it’s something that needs to be address now, not at some undefined future date. How do we make the shift happen?