No digital texts in English literature classes, please! Digital dualism and educational policy
I hadn’t realised that the UK curriculum for GCSE English Literature (for 14-16 year olds) explicitly excludes any kind of electronic literature, as Alexander Pask-Hughes writes in a post on Cyborgology today. He quotes the proposed content descriptions – I suppose “proposed” means they’re not yet approved, but don’t know much about the UK system so fill me in here if I’m wrong:
Study of high quality English literature should be the principal focus of study for this GCSE. Digital texts must not be included. GCSE specifications in English literature should be designed on the basis that students’ reading should include whole texts.
Alexander Pask-Hughes reads this in terms of “digital dualism”, a worldview where the digital is seen as fundamentally different from and often less valuable than the non-digital.
In Norway, the digital is very explicitly included in school curricula, and “digital skills” are defined as one of five basic skills to be part of every subject in schools, along with orals skills, reading, writing and numeracy. One of the goals for high school students in Norwegian is that they should be able to
beskrive samspillet mellom estetiske virkemidler i sammensatte tekster, og reflektere over hvordan vi påvirkes av lyd, språk og bilder (“Describe the interplay between aesthetic techniques in multimodal texts, and reflect over how we are affected by sound, language and images.”)
Of course, Norwegian includes not just literature but language and culture, and has a decades-long tradition of including analyses of advertising, for instance. So adding digital and multimodal texts to the mix doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a general acceptance that poetry could be digital as easily as printed.
In the EU, digital competencies are defined as one of eight key competencies for life-long learning, and are seen as a transversal skill set that should be learnt across subjects in schools, not just in one single subject. That’s great if it works, but also means that nobody has sole responsibility for digital competencies.
Perhaps classing “digital competencies” as a skill set also allows us to keep that digital dualism. Digital skills mean being able to use technology. Maybe that allows us to continue to see technology as separate from the rest of our society and culture, and to continue to see digital skills as separate from the other key skills we learn at school.
I should probably clarify a couple of points.
Firstly, the specifications I wrote about have just undergone a period of consultation. Those in the educational field had the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposals (this consultation period has now ended). Ultimately, the Government will issue their own comments on the issues raised in the consultation and – you would hope – edit the proposals accordingly. However, even if the no digital texts “rule” is ultimately dropped from the specifications, the proposals are indicative of the Government’s wider stance.
Secondly, these reforms are part of wider reforms to the curriculum. The overall picture is that the Government is promoting a highly “functional”, market-driven agenda. “Citizenship” becomes about providing students “with the skills and knowledge to manage their money well and make sound financial decisions”, “Computing” focusses upon logic, algorithms and programming. The Computing GCSE’s almost exclusive focus on programming, for example, leaves little scope for consideration of the application of technologies in specific fields nor consideration of the impact of technology on society. (Indeed, “Computing” is a new term, starting from September 2014. “Computing” used to be known as “Information and Communication Technology (ICT”). This change, I think, also highlights the wider agenda)
Some of these skills (financial management, programming, etc.) are of course highly useful and should be included in the curriculum. However, the way that this is all framed is entirely market-based. The sole driving force behind the current Government’s reforms is to help “young people get good jobs” (as a recent Government press release states). The driving force behind these changes is the “labour market” rather than “social cohesion” or “active citizenship”.