Where is Literacy Going?

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Literacy is a fancy ‘posh’ word for reading, popularised as an essential skill by the term ‘the three Rs’.  The essential skills of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.  It was the Victorians who decided that every child needed these skills to survive in the modern civilised world.  Some would argue that we now live in an even more modern, an even more civilised world so what skills do we need now?  Are the three Rs essential?

I was musing about this because there’s been ongoing rumbles in the media that pen and paper exams are old fashioned and will swiftly be replaced by computerised versions.  Children nowadays apparently are no longer au fait with the most basic tools of education, the pen and paper.

Is this sensible?  Is this logical?  I don’t know.  There seems something sad about this outcome, as though the children of this age are becoming increasingly like robots, responding only to instructions on a printed screen.  Where is the creativity, the feel in a box of wires?  Or is it that creativity is changing medium too?

I guess that change is natural, however much I may buck against it in any context.  The computer came in during my days at school, slowly but surely.  One day we were looking up information in unwieldy volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica the next we were searching for articles from Encarta on CD-ROM.  Eventually we even had the internet.  I am never comfortable writing out large documents by hand, I prefer to do it in a word processing document because I can delete and move things around to my heart’s content.  I am more confident in this medium than if I try to draft out my illogical thought processes on paper.  Neither improves my ability to write scholastic essays however.

Originally in the early schools from the Victorian period on, the slate and chalk was king.  But why?  Cost and availability.  Education has changed, sometimes for the better.  Parrot fashion learning may have its uses but it has passed from popularity.  Should we have retained the slate and chalk when exercise books and pencils became more common?

Fashions and new inventions have all had an effect on education.  We started with pencil in our first years and still used fountain pens in senior school.  I remember when gel pens were new fangled and all the rage.  Teenagers embracing the kaleidoscope of colours, smells and glitter like preschoolers.  I remember teachers telling us not to use biros.  Now you have to use a biro in what may be the last few years of paper exams

The biggest logistical issues with paperless exams is the provision of a computer to every student.  How do you disable every single feature on a computer to stop them using their initiative and finding the answers elsewhere than their own brain?  It seems sometimes that even how we process information has changed.  Does using a computer enable more students to participate in exams or does it have its own medical limitations?

Exams were always a major logistical exercise, prepared with the gritty determination of generals going to war.  Acres of small wooden tables would appear from the depths of storage, chairs procured from every available corner.  Decisions about whether there was enough cassette players for audio exams.  (No, there wasn’t even tape players for each student so I can foresee limitations with this computer system already.)

There is also talk of abolishing books as we know them.  Again is this a natural progression?  We’ve all forsaken scrolls and codices in favour of the easier to use bound book.  Will our children, grandchildren no longer have brightly coloured book spines stacked along their shelves?  Will we be picking up an electronic tablet to share a bedtime story with them?  Is this progress or is there something unnatural, unfeeling about these gadgets?  And how will children learn to read?  One day will the printed word have disappeared from our lives?

Will education come to mean children, students sitting in front of banks of computers?  How will they interact with their teacher or the students around them?  Have we become the victims of another era of parrot fashion and rote but in an entirely new medium?  Will children still play in their early years classrooms?  Will group projects still continue as we know it or will they just communicate over networks?  Will the arts fall by the wayside?  Or will dramas be cast by avatars and viewed on a personal screen?  Or will art become graphics?  Only time will tell but I reckon it’s a sad day when we choose to tether a child to a screen six hours a day.

Personally, I love the feel of paper, I like the ridges and bumps my fountain pen makes on it.  I don’t even mind when I get covered in black ink. I am part of  a communally shared creative process that’s been by played out by thousands if not millions of other scribes across the millenia.  I am one of many thousands of inky fingered students that have struggled to express themselves.  Yet I choose to have an online blog.  Maybe I am embracing the change after all.

It does also make you think how our culture’s records will be preserved, will our documents disappear into the ephemeral or will the files be lost to successive updates of programs and file types?  Who knows.

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2 thoughts on “Where is Literacy Going?

I'd love to know what you think, concrit is especially welcomed on fiction pieces. Thank you.

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