Mastering Ideas, not Keystrokes (Digital Literacy) | #EdTech

As Paul Glister said, “digital literacy is about mastering ideas, not keystrokes.” It is the difference between learning how to use digital devices, and learning how to protect against technology misuse. And yet, if you were to survey the average person on what digital literacy is, why it matters, and who is responsible for its implementation, the answers would not reflect this potential. In fact, they may repeat a number of misconceptions that we need to address. Misconceptions cleared up by this weeks’ panel on ‘EdTech Mondays Kenya’ on NTV.

EdTech Mondays is a program that brings together different players in the EdTech Ecosystem – industry professionals, educators, and experts to discuss the highs, lows, and potential of Technology enabled education. The ‘EdTech Mondays Kenya’ show is spearheaded by the Mastercard Foundation and produced in Kenya in partnership with EdTech East Africa, and moderated by Moses Kemibaro.

For this episode, the panellists – Lilian Kawira Mutegi (founder of Uptyke Consulting) and Brian Kenor (Monitoring Evaluation Accountability and Learning [MEAL] Coordinator, Save The Children International) – clarified a number of misconceptions about digital literacy in Kenya. They reminded us that digital literacy is more than the acquisition of technical skills, and that it is time we stopped treating it this way.

Misconception 1: Digital Literacy is Just about Knowing How to Use Computers

We have said that digital literacy is “about mastering ideas, not keystrokes.” Yet this definition is hardly actionable or tangible. Instead, we will turn to the definition provided by the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development. Digital literacy is “defined as the ability of an individual to find, evaluate, produce, and communicate clear information through forms of digital communication.” It is a mindset that helps you navigate interactions on and manage our relationships with digital devices and technologies.

Misconception 2: Digital Literacy is On Track in Kenya

In 2016, the Ministry of Education implemented the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP). The programme aimed to distribute digital devices to primary school students and to train teachers in the delivery of digital learning content. According to the Third Medium Term Plan, since the programme’s inception, over 880,000 digital devices were distributed to students and close to 81,000 primary school teachers have been trained. The ultimate aim of the programme is to catalyse Kenya’s economic growth by preparing the next generation of workers to capitalise on a digital economy worth $25 billion (approx. KSh 3,12 trillion) in 2025.

Unfortunately, the programme may not be able to achieve these lofty goals because the DLP is adequately funded. Right now, and as Brian noted, students in public primary schools (8.4.4) are allocated KSh 1420 per year and KSh 15,000 under CBC. This is not enough money to fully realise a digital literacy programme. Not with the systemic issues that discolour Kenya’s public education system. Issues such as; (1) the urban-rural divide that sees the former get more funding than the latter; (2) lack of public infrastructure that render digital literacy literally impossible; (3) large classroom sizes that exacerbate the inaccessibility of digital devices and; (4) an insufficient number of and inadequately trained teachers.

Furthermore, the formula for the capitation grant excludes millions of learners from benefiting from this programme. As Brian explained, the grant is “pegged on the number of students who are formally enrolled into an official school.” This not only excludes 2.2 million of the most vulnerable learners from formal education, but also disqualifies them from the digital world and its promises.

Misconception 3: Digital Literacy Only Matters, because The Future is Digital

These promises go beyond preparing us for the world of work tomorrow but to one of the founding promises of the internet itself. Equality. The diversity of content on the internet allows everyone to discover hidden talents and interests, and uncover new ways of learning. This is incredibly beneficial to students with disabilities.

As Lilian commented, digital literacy unlocks the potential and talent of special needs students. It empowers students and motivates them to continue learning. If done correctly, digital literacy could remedy this culture, and provide opportunities for all students. Using digital literacy skills provide students with disabilities with new ways to engage with the content, take in information, and express their understanding of this content. Put simply, digital literacy skills empowers students to be better students. This was confirmed in a 2009 experiment studying the effectiveness of different online mediums (text, text-to-speech, text-to-image) on student performance. The experiment showed positive outcomes for 58 learning disability students in the fifth and sixth grades. Indeed, students with disabilities stood to gain the most from the DLP, just as they stood the most to gain from our digital reality.

Misconception 4: Only Educators and the Government (Public Sector) is responsible for Realising Digital Literacy

We all have a role to play in the implementation of digital literacy. Both Brian and Lillian commented on the need for multisectoral collaboration to address all fault lines within the DLP.

We need the private, public and NGO sectors to collaborate on; (1) the creation and distribution of accessible, relevant and customizable DLP apps and tools; (2) ensuring consistency in curriculum delivery; (3) spotlight the voices of marginalised and vulnerable communities so that the DLP will reflect their realities and; (4) facilitating capacity building for teachers in learning methodologies for digital literacy and special needs students.

We need decision-makers to listen to the teachers who will implement these choices, and the children who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of those choices. We need to more consistently ask them what they think and how we could improve.

We need to educate parents so that conversations that start in the classroom can be continued at home. Conversations about identifying and responding to misinformation, disinformation and hateful and intolerant content online and how we can enforce our rights online.

Indeed, this is an “all-hands-on-deck” situation with impossibly high stakes. Yet, if we continue to treat digital literacy as the mere acquisition of computer skills, then we risk undercutting its value. Digital Literacy manifests technology’s potential to revolutionise everything; from education to commerce. And failing to realise it, may cost us more than we have to lose. 

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