The Daily Mail is alight today with a story that “Ed Balls will today defend plans to teach primary school children about Twitter and Wikipedia while slimming down content in key subjects.
The earlier children learn about the internet and new technology the better, the Schools Secretary will say, or they will remain in the ‘technological dark ages’.
History and geography will be named ‘historical, geographical and social understanding’ in a new primary school curriculum.
Leaked draft plans, drawn up by former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose, show that primary teachers will no longer be required to cover the Romans, Vikings or Tudors in history and could drop both the Victorians and the Second World War.
However, the draft syllabus for English stipulates that ‘media texts’ and ‘social and collaborative forms of communication’ should be covered alongside traditional works of literature.
These should include ‘emails, messaging, wikis and twitters’.
Wikis, as in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, are sites that can be altered by users.
Twitter is the social networking phenomenon that requires users to post ‘ microblogs’ just 140 characters long.
Mr Balls will tell the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ conference in Liverpool it would be ‘ nonsense’ to suggest children would learn about Twitter instead of the Tudors and that good teachers can ensure children learn about history and new technology.
‘Of course children should also learn about new technology. In my experience, the earlier they do so, the better,’ he will say.
‘In the same way we have a duty to ensure our children learn about history, we also have a duty to make sure they are not left in the technological dark ages – I believe good teachers are more than capable of ensuring the two things run alongside each other.
‘The modern world and the way in which we learn and absorb knowledge has changed radically and I suspect it will continue to do so.
‘We need to prepare our children and young people not just with knowledge but also with the skills to find information.’
But critics warned against draining lessons of academic content and said most children were accustomed to using modern media at home and needed no encouragement at school.
In his speech to ATL’s annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Balls will say children will be taught ‘a broad chronology’ of historical events such as the War of the Roses and industrial revolution, as well as making in-depth studies.”
Although the tradaitionalists may jump on the bandwagon, this is about more than simply “teaching twitter”. Social Media networks are the communication method of the futre. Schools have always been there to teach children the skills that they need to cope with life in the world, in the past this meant learning facts and information, but for the 21st century we have to ask ourselves why we need to “learn” the facts and information when we have permant access to a whole plethora of information on any particular topic. Not simply the text book facts, the history of WW1 condensed into a simple list of battles and generals, but instead personal accounts and stories, maps, photosgraphs, images, the stories from the other side too, not simply the world according to UK historians.
It has been said many times here and elsewhere, that the challenge for teaching in the 21st century will be teaching children how to sort, sift and rate information. What is fact, what is opinion, what are ravings by a madman with a grudge? What is authority and what is unreliable.
We cannot assume that children will “abosrb” this information simply by using PCs at home. Anyone with teenagers will know that some of the television soaps almost become a living part of teenagers lives. We see that reality TV has blurred the lines totally between fact and entertainment. A new tv/film genre has been created, the docufiction.
20 years ago there was a similar outrage, as maths teachers decided to teach children how to use calculators. Stating that yes, in reality, as soon as children had left school they would never use a slide rule, or long division, but that those academic principles should still be taught.
Frankly, I personally don’t feel that the world is a poorer place because children now work out Pie using a calculator.
Teaching social media isn’t about switching on, logging in an typing. Its about teaching the awareness, of communication styles and skills, about gathering and assessing information.
After all, isn’t the Social Media simply the debating societies of old? And where as the debating societies were restricted to the priviledge few at universities and private schools, and also with the confidence and skill to talk in them, social media is open to all.
And that, we feel, is no bad thing.