The Digital Native Myth in Primary

Or… Just because children can use an iPad don’t assume they are ‘great with tech’…

This article caught my eye this morning: Kids can’t use Computers.. and why this should worry you from Marc Scott or @coding2learn .

It caught my eye because as I read it I was thinking to myself how true it is. Adults in school still complain when a PowerPoint doesn’t work, we rarely explain just why that youtube video doesn’t work, a change of wifi password can throw the entire school community. The comment: children are great with computers, is oft repeated ‘It just comes naturally to them doesn’t it?’.  I was thinking how everytime I hear that in my own school I always repeat, ‘you mean they are great with so-and-so app‘ or ‘you mean they can use your phone to play angry birds‘. I’m sure I sound like a bit of a pedant, but it does bother me. Especially when teachers assume that the children they are teaching will just ‘pick up’ the skills that we are supposed to teach them.  From Scott’s post:

If you teach IT or Computing, this is a phrase that you’ll have heard a million times, a billion times, epsilon zero times, aleph one times. Okay I exaggerate, but you’ll have heard it a lot. There are variants of the phrase, all espousing today’s children’s technical ability. My favourite is from parents: ‘Oh, Johnny will be a natural for A-Level Computing. He’s always on his computer at home.’ The parents seem to have some vague concept that spending hours each evening on Facebook and YouTube will impart, by some sort of cybernetic osmosis, a knowledge of PHP, HTML, JavaScript and Haskell.

This article was written two years ago – and the misconceptions it addresses are still alive and kicking. I thought the Digital Native thing had gone…

I can’t stress how often I have to explain to Parents that we need to use technology in school because our children need to see it used effectively and appropriately. Recent, lazy journalism has not helped this point at all.  Children (and adults) need to understand that it has a complexity that goes beyond restarting and shutting an app down. They need to know that at the end of it all ‘we’ (a kind of collective human race) has programmed and controlled everything that the computer does, and they can learn how to that too.  We need to stop confusing ‘being comfortable with tech’ for ‘being in control of tech’.

Primary teachers need to have a basic understanding of technology themselves; not in the least because they may be asked to teach this. The difference between the internet and the world wide web anyone?  They need to be able to communicate effectively for their job, so sure email and sharing work, but then they also need to model the safe and effective use of tech in the classroom. To understand why Wikipedia is not always the best source of information or why creating a Power Point for a topic is not, really, computing but is in fact summarizing and presenting information (which can be useful of course).

I’m hoping that the changed focus for the computing curriculum will help this. I’m hoping that in a couple of years we will have school leavers who not only understand the power in their phones, their tablets and watches but who can see how this can be improved. Most teachers and most schools cannot see how they can be improved – we’re struggling to make use of what computers can already do, and faced with many barriers now – but we can help our children see the nuts and bolts beyond the façade – and give them the chance to develop their own understanding and vision.

Incidentally, Scott wrote this post One Year Later .


Further Reading:

How Ed Tech Worship Erodes Great Teaching (TES) – Joe Nutt

Neil Selwyn’s 2009 paper – The Digital Native –  Myth and Reality 


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