Integrating Critical or Digital Literacy into the 21st Century School


Leaders in schools today are faced with numerous challenges. The problem is that while the society demand that the graduates from these schools are ready to fit into the 21st century job market, it is not very clear what the requirements for this are. The skills needed to produce graduates that can fit into the Digital Age are not integrated into the curricula. Unfortunately our schools have adopted a culture of high-stakes testing, which has led to high drop outs. It is important for our schools to integrate the critical or digital literacy into the 21st century School if better results are to be achieved (Schlechty, 1997). The reality is that our children are not trained to be digitally literate; they are trained to succeed in the 20th century and not in the 21st century.

Administrators of schools have to realize that the world our children live in is not the same as the world, in which we live. Young people today spend most of their time using their laptops, talking on their cell phones, instant messaging, using pagers, socializing on various social network sites (International Society for Technology in Education, 2000). When they are online these children interact with different kinds of people; some of them are family, others are experts, and people from all over the world. These children are bombarded with all sorts of information and visual images from all over the internet. Some of these messages that are available online are targeting unsuspecting young people, who may be influenced negatively by what they watch or read. Young people spend much less time watching television or reading books, because of spending the majority of the time, surfing through the internet.

Children now have a virtual world at their finger tips and with this virtual world come various pitfalls and promises. Even though the internet has been available to almost all average Americans about ten years ago, the reality is that the society is yet to define norms for the society. Children have not waited for adults to set norms for the Internet and Web usage and have instead jumped into the complex world of chat rooms and other digital modes of communication. According to Welch (2000), parents feel like immigrants in the world of Internet and Web usage, while children are actually native to this world. This is where the problem begins because while adults are supposed to provide guidance for children they have the least knowledge about cyber culture.

It is important that the society finds a way to use this intelligence that comes from being native to the world of digital technology in helping them to find the most useful from it. The solution for this is the integration of critical or digital literacy into the 21st century school and the realization that education that was designed yesterday cannot sufficiently provide today’s learner with the necessary life skills. There can only be Academic excellence if the technological advancements are made part and parcel of the education system. This will prepare the children to succeed in the Digital Age. In this essay, I will estamate the importance of integrating critical or digital literacy into the 21st century School, the advantages of doing so and the methods of integrating it.

There is a growing need to integrate critical or digital literacy into the 21st century School. The research has shown that about 93% of children aged between twelve and seventeen years old are online today. It was estimated that a total of thirteen hours of videos are uploaded into the internet every minute. Teenagers today depend on their cell phones for their social lives. Facebook, a social website, has been said to have so many users that if it were a country then it would be the fifth country in the world in terms of population. Digital life has been used to describe the media world which includes mobile devices, cell phones and all other media devices that children inhabit all day and all night.

In the digital world, users are able to create content, which become replicated, scaled and they become viral. The content is then viewed by children, when they socialize, do their homework, connect with other people in the world and express their feelings. The innovation of new technology has given our children powers that are unprecedented in the manner, in which they communicate. Technology has made the world more accessible to children at a very early age. Due to the fact that the world has become quite dynamic, there is need for better communication and comprehension skills. There is also need for new codes of conduct, which would regulate these technologies and media world, which is too powerful.

The fact that makes it important to regulate the digital world is that the communiction children have online happens at a distance. The children communicate anonymously, which is the reason why it is possible for someone to act in an unethical manner and engage in behavior that is illegal. With children in America find themselves in middle of a technological revolution, which has managed to influence their lives in ways that are unprecedented. This is majorly because of the amount of time that these children spend on watching movies, TV, texting their friends, playing online video games. Much of their time is now spent online as opposed to spending time with their parents or playing real games with real friends.

There are so many personal technologies that are portable and available to our children today, which means that the information these children access are unfiltered. Such information has a way of impacting on the growth and development of these children, especially in the way they study and grow. There is a very thin line between the perils that come with the digital world and the opportunities it grants to those children that live in it. The reality is that the stakes are so high that something has to be done to regulate this. The truth is that these children know a lot of things that adults probably know nothing about.

This essay focuses on what teachers, parents and guardians can do in order to ensure that the children in America are able to harness the power and gather skills, ethics and knowledge that come with digital world. Policy makers, educators, media industry and parents, -  all need to come together in the creation of parenting and teaching tools that will allow the country to protect, empower and educate children in the advent of the digital world. In the digital world it is very easy to retrieve and create content and to share this content with other users. The users are anonymous and instantaneous, which means that some of this information can be trusted while others cannot be trusted. Issues of privacy and reliability of content that is online are all part of issues surrounding the education of children in the digital world.

The nature of digital literacy and education and the way, in which it takes place, still remains an issue of that is debatable. At the moment, it occurs outside of the classroom. Teachers now have to deal with the challenges that the digital world offers. There is need for commitment towards the integration of digital literacy into the 21st century School. The president of the United States, Barrack Osama, often says that it is not practical for the US to put children through schools that were designed in the 20th-century, while expecting them to have jobs in the 21st-century. The president insists that technology cannot be separated from education and that children should have digital technology skills that are high if they are to be the leaders of the future.

It is important that even, as are integrated, an ethical foundation, which is unshakable, should be established. There are a number of goals that the integration have to achieve. The first goal is to educate the children. It is has to be created tools and curricula that would teach digital literacy. The teachers and parents should also be empowered with the information and tools, which they can use to bring up children, who are digitally informed. The third goal is to protect the children. A balance that is healthy, smart and safe needs to be found in the integration of digital literacy into the 21st century School.

It is important that students are digitally literate if they are to thrive and survive in a world that has increasingly become complex. Being digitally literate in this case means empowering children to be able to understand and use the messages and digital technologies that are available in the media. Digital literacy must, therefore, become part and parcel of our education system right from traditional studies such as writing, science, math and reading. The other aspects of education that needs to install into our education system are the ability to be creative, innovative, to communicate effectively, think critically and to participate in civic processes.

Digitally literate children will be adequately prepared for roles in the future. Essential initiatives would have to be taken in order to ensure that this happens. The first thing that would have to happen would be to integrate digital literacy into the 21st Century School. It will be important that new digital literacy is incorporated into the already existing curricula. Every school should be able to incorporate digital literacy in the everyday learning activities of the school. The children should be empowered with tools for gathering, evaluating, and applying information. These children will then be able to use their intelligence to evaluate information and create content that is ethically acceptable.

Basic digital literacy education and skills for using technology should be taught in schools. Technological and digital literacy is important and should be taught to children in schools. This will help the children to succeed in life and also in the work place in the 21st-century. These children have to understand the way computers work,  know how to work with the technology applications. This will help to understand the digital world that has continually influenced their lives. This knowledge will help the children to learn how to use these tools; they are able to make their social and school environments better. Digital literacy will also help in deepening the ability of young people to collaborate with others and to communicate effectively.

There is a need for schools to teach children how to communicate in a world that has increasingly become digital because digital technology offers new ways of connecting with other people, working with other people and communicating with them. The children are given an opportunity to interact with other people in school and all over the world. It is important that new rules are set for proper communication. In the age of digital technology, children need to learn how to convey ideas and absorb them in a way that is effective, responsible and socially acceptable. Children should be encouraged to be innovative and creative. Tools for technology and Digital media are important ways of empowering children to access digital media in a responsible way.

The education system should be able to integrate digital literacy into their curricula in order to teach the children how they will be able to use to tools that are useful in creating new ways of interaction. Digital literacy should encourage creativity by allowing the children to alter, borrow and use new information in a responsible manner. Digital Literacy has to be disseminated to all schools. They have to be aware of the importance of Digital Literacy to allow them to carry themselves in a way that protects their privacy, recognizes the authors of articles and books that are found online. Briefly saying, digital literacy should help in maintaining the highest ethical standards.

The schools should be able to use the resources and the tools and Curriculum tools that teach the children to maintain high moral ethics while operating in the digital world, instead, of using the mandated national curriculum. The resources and the tools and Curriculum tools also allow children to take responsibility for the content they create or access, while they are online. This will enable them to develop behavior that is legal, safe and responsible, while in the digital world. There is also need for teachers, who teach children in the 21st-century schools to be trained in the basics of Digital Literacy (Weiner, 1994). This preparation and training will help the teachers to understand how to train the children the fundamentals of Digital Literacy. The unfortunate truth is that many of the administrators and teachers that we have in schools today know very little about digital technology, especially when compared to the students they teach.

It is important that these teachers and administrators are trained so that they get to understand digital applications and technologies. This will allow them to teach these ethics and skills that are needed by children in the 21st-century schools. These teachers also have to be developed professionally and to be guided on the ways through, which they can connect in both formal and informal environments. Formal environments can be like schools and colleges, while informal environments include their homes, libraries or programs that take place after the school. It is digital literacy that is able to break the wall that has for years have existed between the formal and informal learning environment. 

Parents also have to be educated about the use, ethics and importance of digital technologies. Parents have the duty to protect their children, bring them up and to counsel them. The digital world is increasingly influencing the lives of children and as such parents should be made aware of how it operates. While legislative protections is in a good move, it is more effective to equip parents with the tools they require in order to guide their children in the best, most ethical and responsible behavior, while being in the digital world. This is yet another aspect of integrating digital literacy into the 21st century School. This training for teachers has to be funded by the state. It will be important, perhaps, to create a Digital Teacher Corps, which are able to provide on-site teacher training.

An organization like Digital Teacher Corps would be able among anther things to provide in-service training for teachers and professional development for teachers. The organization will also help teachers by improving the environment, in which they operate through the provision of equipment needed for digital learning. The organization would also be able to make use of structures that already exist such as universities, community colleges and the Departments of Education. There are groups that are able to develop tools and resources for Digital Literacy. The tools that are developed have to be able to deal with the changes that are constantly occurring in the world of digital technology.

Digital Literacy is an aspect of education that teachers cannot teach using those textbooks that are outdated, even before they are published. Digital Literacy has to be taught through the Internet or any other flexible platform or digital media that can be restructured whenever necessary. These changes are often done, when new information appears or when there is new experiences. Digital Literacy should also be scalable and modular. This means that there will be no need to introduce new subjects at every age and each grade level, rather the digital literacy lessons have to be incorporated in the curricula that already exists. School that is currently underserved have to be funded and given the digital technology tools to help the teachers to train the children better.

It is important that Digital Literacy is made an important part of the basic curriculum at every school. Digital Literacy have to be made part and parcel of the courses that already exist within the school curriculum. Digital Literacy can be included into the Math, History, English and Science lessons. This will give children the opportunity to learn rules that will lead to smart and safe use of the digital technology tools. School administrators have to do much more if they are to keep up with technology that is constantly changing (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998). The digital world is constantly changing with new research methods being introduced each day. For preparing the children for the rapidly changing world, they have to be empowered to thrive in the digital world.

This integration of digital literacy into schools should, in my opinion, begin with the public realization that digital literacy is essential for learners in the 21st century. The school administration also hass to embrace new approaches of learning that embraces new research about effective use of technology, new learning methods, and skills necessary in the 21st century in light of academic content that has increasingly become rigorous. The third group of stakeholders is that, which comprises of Policymakers. These policymakers have to base the accountability of schools by basing their measurement on academic performance as well as digital literacy needed by these children for the 21st century.

Benefits of Integrating Critical or Digital Literacy into the 21st Century School

There are numerous benefits of integrating critical or digital literacy into the 21st century School, especially for young children, who do not have an idea how to go about looking for information online in a safe and healthy manner. The first benefit is that this integration would act as a driver for change in the 21st century. In a society that isknowledgebase, tools for surviving in the digital age are necessary (Welch, 2000). It is necessary for stakeholders in the 21st century to redefine education in the Digital Age. In order to fully realize the benefits that come with the digital age, the policy makers have to incorporate digital literacy into the mainstream of school assessment, curriculum, and modes of instruction.

Incorporation of digital literacy into the mainstream of school assessment, curriculum, and modes of instruction will act as a bridge that helps children attain High Academic Achievement as the integration of digital literacy leads to a form of learning that is personalized, more engaging, meaningful, and relevant. These are all the factors that have been linked, through research, for better academic performance. Studies have shown that when technology is put to use in an appropriate manner then children are able to perform better. These better results have been observed even in instances, where conventional tests are used. Teachers have to understand these results from research so that they may be encouraged to integrate critical or digital literacy into the 21st century school curriculum (Ercegovac, 1998).

The final benefit of incorporating critical or digital literacy into the 21st century school curriculum is that the integration would act as the platform, upon which accountability is encouraged and Informed Decision Making occurs. Learners are trained to find data that is meaningful and to translate it into opportunities for growth. Digital literacy helps in perfecting personalized learning that is based on using both positive and negative feedback from all the stakeholders involved (Hirsch, Kett & Trefil, 1987).


The benefits of integrating digital literacy into the 21st century School are countless. As I have mentioned in this essay, integrating digital literacy into the school system would help raise children, who will contribute in a meaningful way to the economic, social and political well being of the nation. Digital literacy will bring the changes that are required to regulate the changes that come with the digital world due to the fact that as much as the digital world brings with it numerous benefits, it also brings with it potential dangers. Teachers have to be funded, the curricula have to be revised and parents introduced to digital tools in order to empower children to manage the role that media plays in the lives of the children.

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