I had an interesting discussion the other night with a friend of mine who runs a school in Zurich. The subject was media competency in students.
It started off by me asking if they were still running Windows on the school computers used for IT training. My friend was reluctant to answer the question and said they didn't do much computer training in the classical sense anymore. Apparently using electronic devices seems to come naturally with kids these days, especially with the young ones. Even with children (like his own 7 year old) who don't have a lot of apparent access to computers, you no longer have to explain how to move pictures around by touch or mouse or trackpad, how to find software to do stuff, where to type, click, drag and drop.
I never thought of it this way before, but agreed there seems to be a lot of truth in what he said. This would be very nice indeed, as it allows to focus on actual content much more, rather than spending hours explaining the basics. I argued it was still important to learn the basics of how “the machines” that do all that stuff for us are made. And more importantly to learn about who controls what at what cost, learn about alternatives, different ways of doing things. My friend replied this was at the heart of what they try to teach the children anyway, knowing there is always an alternative way to achieve something – and this should not be limited or focused on IT. I like that approach a lot. He also said it is more important to teach the parents to find their way around this ‘digital age' as to not have this big knowledge gap between parents and children; as parents should still be able to offer guidance on what is the Internet in particular. This seems right but doesn't sound like something a school could achieve. Although it's true that the kids I know in Switzerland and the UK have impressive basic skills at handling digital devices and software I wonder if with the ones growing up around iPhones and iPads the skill won't be limited to swiping / touch screens. I think (and hope) not, but we'll have to see about that.