A New Literacy ?


Disappointing essay by Marc Prensky – yep, the same one that coined the Digital Natives wonderful term which I’ve already blogged about).

Marc develops a theory whereby :

Programming, aka the ability to control machines, is indeed the key literacy (i.e the ability to carefully read and write a contemporary spoken language) of the century (…) and that who can’t will be increasingly left behind.

How Vs Why

At that point I guess we need a Diane Ravitch quote : The one who knows “how” will always get a job. The one who knows “why” will always be her boss.

Programming some HTML/Flash tools is just like doing DIY, I guess this is rather trivial. For major houseworks you’ll still go with a contractor, though, because that’s a genuine professional job.

In my opinion, this may be important but not as much as being literate (in the tired 20th century sense as M Prensky puts it) because learning our own language, culture and history not solely teaches us how to interact with the outside world (be it human or machines) but also the ability to produce sense and to become a thinking human being. (In France we used to call old greek and latin studies les Humanités)

Programmes Vs Money

Marc then comes with Microsoft and Google examples of programmers leading the world, none being really appropriate here.

The most important thing Bill Gates ever did from a strategy perspective was to buy the Q-DOS rights – for a mere $US50,000 – any money better spent ever ? No programming skills involved here.

As for Google, Brin and Page program has only started to bring revenue when they took the idea pioneered by goto.com to sell keyword advertising. Up to then, regardless on how powerful their search engine was, it was just useless from a pure business perspective,

One click away dictionary

When you are surrounded with chaos, the thing you need the most is a dictionary (Confucius)

True, kids are very fast in learning how to use these tools. But what the most amazing thing is not “how” they use it but rather “what for” and the type of skills they have developed.

I have a 12 years old girl and what I’m most impressed with is not how she customizes her myspace page. It is how she googles to search on any topic and come with amazing analysis. This can be music, education, environment etc …

The dictionary is now one click away, and digital natives love using it. As a result they understand the world in a much quicker way then we did when we were their age, relunctant to grab the big and heavy book on the top of the bookshelf.

They are used to deal with massive amount of information and they’ve developed the ability to quickly classify it, find their way into it and come up with a synthesis. Techie tools have just dramatically changed the education tempo in that respect.

Human Synthetizer

As a digital imigrant responsible for a digital native education, I make sure this does not stop her from reading any of Tom Sawyer or Holden Caufield adventures. Because the main skill in the 21st century is not the ability to code a for each loop. It remains the same one as in the 20th, i.e. the ability of making sense out of the vast amount of data we are surrounded with. Or, to quote David Armano, to be a human synthetizer.

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