Technology to enhance literacy - It always takes time to figure out how to use new technology-to discover the valuable new uses implicit in the technology itself. When computers first came into existence ( then known as number-crunching monsters), some experts predicted that the whole world needed not more than five of them for specialised military and scientific calculations.
However, by late 1990s, multimedia capabilities had vastly increased the computer's ability to entertain, inform, educate and the World Wide Web turned them into extraordinary communication tools. They became relatively cheaper and accessible to acquire for offices, schools and homes.
Looking at these trends, one wonders whether computers will play a positive role in the building a culture of reading. What is their influence and will they redefine the course of teaching and learning process?
Will they replace the traditional book, literacy and the teacher's role in the process of teaching and learning? These are hard questions that today's educators and policy makers should be working to address. Policy makers in education should develop a clear-sighted, open-minded roadmap for both the new and older technologies in order to develop a symbiotic relationship between the two.
So, what is the relationship between computers and literacy or functional literacy? According to Burniske (2000), literacy is the technical skills one needs to be able to read and write; on the other hand functional literacy is characterised by the basic reading and writing skills necessary for survival.
The latter having been coined by the US army during the World War Two. Functional literacy remains the prerequisite for other types of literacy as educators still need to teach students how to read and write.
At the same time, however, students need to be taught how to use the new technologies as well as to interpret and contextualise the words and information they encounter through the use of computers. This ability to use computers effectively for the purpose of obtaining and creating information is what is referred to as computer literacy.
There are pros and cons of the computer age when it comes to reading and education. Some of the benefits that come with the computer age include the following; Computers as tools for learning- computers can help develop memory skills and offer after school study or tutorial sessions. They can also allow children to experiment and investigate the liberal arts, social sciences, abstract sciences and mathematical concepts through simulations and games. Computers can enhance children's creativity, provide access to an infinite colour palette and fine-tuned keyboard which keeps children busy creating art and music. They can also offer children immense access to information that is not available at school or other traditional methods of information like books.
Computers offer the best medium of communication. Together with appropriate software, they can enable children to share experiences with their next door neighbour or with other children as far away as America, Europe or China by means of electronic links. Computers can be used as tools of productivity.
Software and programmes such as word processing, database management, software and spreadsheet can also help children work more efficiently.
In addition, computers work as source of entertainment and this can help children develop important skills like eye-hand coordination, pattern recognition and various analytical skills.
To be continued........
The writer is an Educationist, Author and Publisher.
By Stephen Mugisha
The New Times/05/03/2013