PROGRAMMING: THE NEW LITERACY?

Marc Prensky, the guy who reportedly coined the phrases digital immigrant and digital native, has a thought-provoking article in the February 2008 issue of Edutopia Magazine, titled Programming: the new literacy. In his article Prensky argues that programming literacy will rise in importance to become the essential characteristic of a highly-literature person of 2028.

Much has been written about 21st century literacy, which is seen going far beyond the old definition of being able to read and write a modern spoken language. The following breakdown is taken from Engauge’s 21st Century Skills. There is no specific mention of programming in the section on technological literacy, which is where it would be placed.
“Digital-Age Literacy includes the following:
• Basic Literacy: Language proficiency (in English) and numeracy at levels necessary to function on the job and in society to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential in this Digital Age.
• Scientific Literacy: Knowledge and understanding of the scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.
• Economic Literacy: The ability to identify economic problems, alternatives, costs, and benefits; analyze the incentives at work in economic situations; examine the consequences of changes in economic conditions and public policies; collect and organize economic evidence; and weigh costs against benefits.
• Technological Literacy: Knowledge about what technology is, how it works, what purposes it can serve, and how it can be used efficiently and effectively to achieve specific goals.
• Visual Literacy: The ability to interpret, use, appreciate, and create images and video using both conventional and 21st century media in ways that advance thinking, decision making, communication, and learning.
• Information Literacy: The ability to evaluate information across a range of media; recognize when information is needed; locate, synthesize, and use information effectively; and accomplish these functions using technology, communication networks, and electronic resources.
• Multicultural Literacy: The ability to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences in the customs, values, and beliefs of one’s own culture and the cultures of others.
• Global Awareness: The recognition and understanding of interrelationships among international organizations, nation-states, public and private economic entities, sociocultural groups, and individuals across the globe.”

Prensky makes the point that “teachers often disrespect today’s young people for being less than literate in the old reading and writing sense. But in turn these young citizens of the future have no respect for adults who can’t program a DVD player, a mobile phone, a computer or anything else. Today’s kids already see their parents and teachers as the illiterate ones. No wonder some teachers are scared to bring new technologies into the classroom—the kids just laugh at their illiteracy.”

But what are, or will be, the components of literacy in the future? Are the components listed above sufficient? What more could be added? Flexibility or adaptability might be considered, to deal with the uncertainty. Alvin Toffler is quoted saying, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Prensky goes on to say, “Our machines are expected, thirty years from now, to be a billion times more powerful than they are today. Literacy will belong to those who can master not words, or even multimedia, but a variety of powerful, expressive human-machine interactions.”

“If programming (the ability to control machines) is indeed the key literacy of this century, how do we, as educators, make our students literate?”

At Sekolah Bogor Raya, we will be looking at programming as a possible topic for inclusion in the ICT curriculum. First we need to check out several curricula to see if programming is taught (and if so, what languages) and what other national plus schools are doing.

One possibility is Scratch, which is free from MIT. It is a programming tool for kindergarten/grade one and up to about grade 6. Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.

Scratch could be followed by an introduction to programming with Alice, Microsoft Visual Basic, Logo, HTML, PHP, Qbasic, C++, or Python, all of which have been taught at the high school level.
Perhaps we could ask other national plus schools to comment.

4 thoughts on “PROGRAMMING: THE NEW LITERACY?

  1. Pingback: Programming literacy : la littératie de programmation, le nouveau dada de Prensky ? | Le guide des égarés.

  2. Pingback: Et in Arcadia Ego » Blog Archive » Lieux communs 03/07/2008

  3. I have been working with Alice as an excellent introduction to programming for students as young as 12 years old. I really like how the programming structures are included without having to master the syntax of a programming language.

    I have been able to make some fairly sophisticated animations using Alice and it seems quite powerful, yet it is simple enough for anyone to learn and use.

    If I were revising a teacher education curriculum to include programming skills, I think Alice would be an excellent platform to include.

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