Why are tech skills less important than reading skills?

I recently read a blog post by Mark Gleeson called Can EVERYONE in Education really be “Tech Savvy”? In his post he comes to the conclusion that “We have to take it easy with the technophobes on our staff…. We need to accept that tech is not everyone’s number one priority.” He makes his point about both staff and students.

While I agree that it’s important to recognize that not everyone wants to be a computer/technology expert, I think we should be careful not to excuse people for choosing not to engage in the learning around technology.

Literacy and Numeracy

Nearly everyone I know agrees that literacy (reading and writing, mostly) is essential in our society. If a teacher were to say, “I can’t read,” the public (and other teachers) would be horrified (also incredulous, since that person acquired at least two university degrees in a very traditional education system).

Not everyone agrees about numeracy, though. They do intellectually (including bemoaning the prevalence of calculators), but if that teacher were to say, “I can’t do math,” or, “I have a lot of trouble working with numbers,” the public would be sympathetic. That’s a problem with our culture right now, and historic (and sometimes current) math education is partly to blame. I think we can fix it, but it’s going to take a while.

Are tech skills the new math skills?

I’m concerned that skills with technology are seen as being more like numeracy skills than literacy skills. It seems like it’s permissible to say, “I’m not good with technology,” or, “Computers don’t like me,” even as a teacher.

Excusing a lack of commitment to learning technology is just like excusing a lack of commitment to learning to read. You need these skills. Not developing them will absolutely hurt you professionally and personally. You’ll be able to get by, for now, but I don’t know for how long. Certainly not long at all in this field. Technology (and connectedness) can have tremendous power, and you need to leverage it for you and your students.

Talk with some connected colleagues. I know lots of people who say, “I wasn’t good with computers, but I figured it was too important to ignore. Now I love them.”

Be one of those people.

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2 thoughts on “Why are tech skills less important than reading skills?

  1. Great post, Brandon. It’s an interesting perspective to take. In my post you’re referring to, I was reflecting on how many find it difficult to take to Ed tech simply because they find it difficult to understand it. Your analogy with numeracy in that regard is relevant. I’ve worked with a lot of teachers over the year supporting them in learning Maths concepts in more contemporary ways. They can execute the specific lessons we plan effectively but deep down, there is still a subtle disconnection to understanding the real mathematical thinking that prevents them from really engaging with low and high achievers when intervention is needed. They just don’t get the math. It’s a fundamentally important skill set to have but it just doesn’t seem to be hard wired into our brains as fluently as literacy. We all need to communicate. It seems to be a natural function of our lives so literacy seems to come easier than numeracy. Having said that, I have had many students over the years who were close to illiterate but excelled in Maths.

    ICT is linked more to numeracy than literacy, I believe. The logical reasoning behind it means mathematical people in some ways will embrace tech more – a gross over generalization I know. Then again, ICT is embracing the creativity side of life these days with a lot of web tools an social networking sites. Maybe this is the opt in mechanism to hook the technophobes in to embrace it more. Tech is getting easier. Breaking down the wall of fear by finding the easier tools is important.

    I certainly think Ed tech is important and all teachers need to embrace it and can’t afford to ignore it.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the comment! I agree that ICT tends to be more logical/sequential, at least historically; after all, the people writing this stuff are computer engineers!

      I think interface is a big part of the problem right now. Too many programs/web services are shiny and have lots of buttons, but fail to provide a good user interface. Other tech performs really well in this way. For example, I have a relative who finds computers (read: PCs running Windows) difficult to use, but she’s happy to tap away on an iPad all day. It’s just easier, even though it’s really performing the same tasks for her.

      Maybe the tempering message for the tech-friendly is to accept that, like reading, there will be a continuum of expertise for everyone, but there are great rewards for moving as far as you can towards the “skilled” end.

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