A recent study has pointed to the decline in education and literacy among British schoolchildren, as a result of increased use of social networking, email and text messaging. The study was conducted by the National Literacy Trust in the UK and they found that children were reading less books, as they favoured 'technology-based' reading materials, including email and searching on Facebook, Twitter etc.. The fact that children are reading less books and turning to digital is not really a surprise, but does it need to be a bad thing? Or is it instead a reflection of a shift in society as older forms of reading and writing make way for new, better technologies?
The fact is that the skills younger people need to develop in order to function in everyday working life and society overall, extend beyond an ability to read a book. Being able to adeptly search on Twitter and Facebook, as this study highlights children are spending more time doing, is surely more necessary to learn today, than being able to read a book? There is undoubtedly an element of fear as a shift takes place in society and what once had its place in the classroom is no longer as relevant.
This is about the education system changing to teach younger people and equip them with the skills they need in order to function and perform well in the new digital economy. The good thing is that this younger generation are digital natives - they are the most advanced generation we've ever had when it comes to adoption of digital and social technologies. So why should we be worried if they're reading books or not? There are far more important lessons that need to take place, such as control of your own information and how to exert an element of privacy online. These are mistakes that younger people could make without fully understanding the consequences. I would rather have the emerging groups in society, that are our future in a very real way, educated in social technologies in this way and knowledgeable in the role it plays and how it can transform entire businesses.
The golden age of knowledge
Paul Carr recently wrote an article, in response to Jeff Bercovici's assertion that the "golden era of books is over". In it he claimes, and rightly so, that the golden era of books is now. Only they might just not look like books, as they become available in new forms and are even more accessible through digital platforms such as the Kindle. This is representative of a collective assertion that because something 'old' dies out, it is no longer accessible. Reading has not become moot just because it now happens online. Indeed, the knowledge that young people have access to far, far outweighs that which we could access before the advent of digital technology. Where once a book was placed in front of you and you had to take what it said as fact, now you can research online. You can use social technologies to find other opinions, alternative sources of information and importantly share your own opinion to open up a discussion. This is more than you will ever get from a hardcore book. It does not mean that the death of the hardback is a bad thing.
Social media is opening up the education system because it is giving people access to more information than we've ever had. It is the golden era of knowledge, whatever form that knowledge may come in.
Who's really the teacher?
An outcome of the 'digital natives' growing up with digital and social technology and seamlessly integrating it into their daily lives as a necessity, is that it brings into question who is really the teacher? The students in the classroom are likely to be the most advanced people in the room when it comes to use of digital. So what role does the teacher then play? In many cases, the education system has a job to do, to catch up with these digital natives and ensure that it is still able to do the job it's supposed to do. The fact is that technology isn't going anywhere but up. Far more will be gained by smart education of children and learning from them the role that it plays in their lives, to ensure this use is developed responsibly and to its full potential, instead of trying to restrict this, out of fear.