What Digital Natives Need From School

The term ‘digital native’ has now become a regular part of the language, used to describe a person born in to the digital age and therefore accepting it as a completely natural part of life (instead of seeing it as adjunct or ‘tacked on’ to life, as experienced by the Digital Immigrant’). The term was first coined by Marc Prensky (click on link to learn more about him) , one of the leading thinkers in education in the Twenty First Century. His thinking has come to be increasingly influential in discourse on the future course of school education. Unfortunately, though, as with so many other such thinkers, whilst lots of educators nod their heads sagely and credit the wisdom of what is said, precious little is done to really change key fundamental elements of how school education is carried out.

I was therefore especially pleased to come across a very well-written, thought provoking editorial piece by Prensky for the ASCD Educational Leadership monthly magazine, March 2013 edition. It’s quite long, but I believe it goes to the heart of so many of the issues in education reform today that it should be essential reading for every educator (and well worthwhile for parents as well) to understand where we should be placing our priorities and how we fulfil our responsibilities to prepare young people for the world of the Twenty First Century.

ASCD – Educational Leadership Editorial – Marc Prensky

One of the paragraphs that struck me most powerfully was the following:

“As we educators embrace these new capacities, it’s important to understand that technology isn’t just a “new way to do old things,” which is mostly how we use it in schools today. That is, in fact, the most trivial use of technology. The only reason to use technology in that way is to make us more efficient and enable us to cut out something old to make room for new things we need. Anyone who maintains that we should continue to teach and use both the old ways and the new is suggesting that we maintain an expensive horse in the barn in case our car breaks down. This is unaffordably inefficient and just plain wrong. If our technology does break down temporarily (and everything does), we repair it and move on.”

I am reminded of the early days of my career in Private Banking. Despite the fact that we had computers and that systems were fully backed up, there were very strict policies dictating that still hard copies of EVERYTHING had to be printed out and kept on files that sat in rows of metal filing cabinets. Banking has moved on and addressed many such issues, but the changes required in education are far more than just administrative. What Prensky calls for is a complete rethink on the purpose of school education, the curriculum that provides the vehicle to achieve those purposes and ultimately the entire way of working within the spaces we construct to carry forward those purposes.

Prensky calls for a complete rethink on curriculum with the following critical paragraphs in the article:

How could we rethink our K–12 curriculum for the 21st century, symbiotically combining human strengths with the most powerful technology strengths? We might begin by eliminating as separate classes all the subjects we now teach: math, English, science, social studies. All those subjects have become bloated and outdated and—far more important—are the wrong way to focus our kids’ education in the 21st century.

K–12 study should focus on three crucial areas: Effective Thinking, which would include creative and critical thinking as well as portions of math, science, logic, persuasion, and even storytelling; Effective Action, which would include entrepreneurship, goal setting, planning, persistence, project management, and feedback; and Effective Relationships, which would include emotional intelligence, teamwork, ethics, and more.

The remainder of this curriculum would focus on Effective Accomplishment—what you do with what you’ve learned. That part would be entirely project-based and real-world oriented and would differ for every student. It would include much of what we now call “content,” but only what students would need to accomplish something real.”

A fundamental challenge remains. In business, innovation and change are partly driven by the positive motivation for growth, success and achievement and partly by the negative emotion of fear – “If we don’t innovate, our competitors will destroy us.” Unfortunately, in education neither of these imperatives really exist to act as drivers of innovation and change. Education doesn’t work in an economically ‘real’ market, so neither the success imperative or the failure imperative act as effective drivers. Regrettably, here in India we see plenty of evidence that failure to innovate doesn’t bring any kind of fearful misfortune on educational institutions. In fact, we see plenty of evidence that those who don’t innovate still get to grow and be quite successful (at least on financial measures). I believe in education the motivation to innovate and change has to come from a moral imperative – if we fail to innovate and change, we fail a generation of children and we fail the world, giving it too many people who lack the key skills and competencies to take the world forward positively.

The question then becomes – are there enough educators ready to take ‘the road less travelled’ to fulfil a moral imperative?


One Response

  1. Very pertinent Mark, especially as parents and educators in India (some of them) are re-assessing the traditional methods of teaching and trying to do something about it..
    Hope you got to read the article I wrote for Careers360 where I quoted you…
    Thanks and regards
    Rashi Bisaria

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