IT skills and schooling: Rethinking assumptions about access

Year: 1999

Author: Taylor, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Where once curricula confidently mapped what had to be learned, schools are now required to develop specific capacities for engagement in lifelong learning and to provide access to and skills in the use of IT, particularly the Internet. This paper investigates aspects of this challenge, drawing on DETYA-funded research into the development of ICT skills in Australian schools (Meredyth, Russell, Blackwood, Thomas & Wise 1999). (In all, 222 principals, 1258 teachers and 6213 students from a representative sample of schools from all States and Territories completed questionnaires. Students were in the final year of their primary education, or the final year of compulsory education.)

In particular, the paper examines the issue of access in terms of expectations which are confirmed and challenged by the survey findings, and by other investigations. One focus for this examination is the finding that students tend to learn most of their IT skills in settings other than schools. Learning in those settings is contextualised by a range of agendas very unlike those of the classroom. They are commercial, action-oriented infotainment settings, where learning is likely to be problem-focused and peer-based rather than adult-led or instructional. Pointing as they do to the breakdown of the boundaries around schools, the findings challenge assumptions about the role of schooling, and the focus on skill development within curricula. The analysis provided in this paper illustrates ways that 'straight thinking' about equity and access to lifelong learning is problematised by these new learners and new technologies.