I posted an article earlier this week about the difficulty of finding ready-to-go technology stuff for kids, and I figured out why: The publishers aren’t the only monolithic entity who is slow to innovate! It seems the Ministry of Education—in my Canadian province, anyway—is slow to innovate, too. Just for fun, I looked up Ontario’s Science and Technology curriculum {PDF} (last updated back in the stone ages of 2007) and, to my surprise, found absolutely no reference in it to computer technology whatsoever.

This wouldn’t be such an issue if teachers were even remotely prepared to fill in the gaps themselves. But unfortunately, most of them are not. The official curriculum document for science and technology treats ‘technology’ as more of an offshoot of natural science than anything else. The only even remotely computer-y reference I found in the K-6 curriculum was a grade six module on ‘electricity and electrical devices.’

If you, as a teacher, want more hard tech, you can take an additional qualification course, which costs $800 and is completed on one’s own time and dime. I took this course three years ago, back when it was called ‘Computers in the Classroom,’ and found it geared toward people at a very basic level of technology comfort. The most taxing assignment I had to complete for it was the creation of an eight-slide Powerpoint presentation! A year later, they changed the name to ‘Integration of Computer and Information Technology in Education,’ and perhaps they changed the content, too. But at any rate, it’s not enough. I am the only teacher in my 100-kid school who has taken this course, and if we want to raise computer-literate kids, we need more. This can’t be an extra; it has to be part of the core curriculum.

To me, tech education can’t just be about understanding that machines are powered by electricity. And it can’t just be about using this piece of software or that one, on a Mac or PC or tablet or whatever. It has to be about teaching kids to use technology creatively and responsibly.

how to stop cyberbullyingI know some of this is meant to come in later; the high school tech curriculum is arguably more comprehensive. But high school is too late. I have a cousin who just (reluctantly) joined Facebook because her ten-year-old daughter signed up at a friend’s house, and she wanted to be able to keep tabs on what her daughter was up to. I have a sister who banned her teen from Facebook for a week when a friend used her daughter’s account to post something inappropriate; my sister had to drive home the point that we are responsible for what gets posted under our own names, no matter who does the posting. And in a very highly publicized case making national headlines here, a teenager named Amanda Todd committed suicide shortly after sharing a YouTube video where she called out her peers for their relentless bullying.

High school is too late. We have to get in during the early years and teach our kids how to navigate an increasingly techy world. We have to teach them in a way that’s about more than just ticking off a bunch of computer programs we expect them to learn. And a curriculum that hasn’t been updated since 2007 is not the way to do it!

I know that in most jurisdictions, curriculum documents don’t just get updated on the fly. It takes committees and consultations and time and money and processes. I get that. But I get, too, that this is an issue that all educators—whether they have taken the additional qualification or not—need to be proactive about educating themselves about first. There is no requirement to teach computers to primary school children yet, but there is no prohibition of it, either. It’s not mandated, but it’s still teachable, just like any extra you might bring in because your school community needs it. So, what are some topics I’d like to see covered in a revised technology curriculum?

• Basic computer skills, using the appropriate terminology—tap, swipe, drag, point, click, select, highlight and so on, using both touchscreen and computer

• We need to focus more on the process than on a specific app or program. It’s about teaching writing, not about teaching Microsoft Word specifically.

• We need to teach healthy habits to young children—how and why to balance their free time so they aren’t just choosing screens for every leisure activity.

• We need to teach proper digital research skills—how to evaluate the worth of a website, and how to verify information using multiple sources.

• We need to teach new ways of presentation. It’s not just poster board and Powerpoint anymore! Movies, websites, blogs, e-books and so on have a place in education.

• We need to teach them how to post online safely, and we need to create a culture where cyber-bullying is so not OK that they don’t even think about doing it.

• We need to teach them about the good ways—and the bad ways—of using social networking to make connections with other people.

• We need to stop emphasizing typing skills and start emphasizing basic programming skills. We want to make content creators, not secretaries!

• We need to teach good digital device manners, including when to put the phone/tablet/iThing away, and actually be with people.

Ideally, I’d like to see a generation of kids that enter high school with a solid set of digital health and social habits, a good foundation in basic computer operation and an understanding of how the online world works. They should know how to create simple content, and be ready to spend their high school years deepening that foundation and learning to hack, optimize and program their own apps and digital solutions. We can’t have another generation be treated as if an eight-slide Powerpoint show is the proper culmination to a term’s worth of learning.


  1. The curriculum is changing organically at the school and classroom level — sometimes with the fundraising support of parent groups, sometimes with creative financing at the school level. My Grade 3 son blogs regularly to his classmates, is creating comic strips online, and contributes to a classroom wiki. My Grade 7 son is learning to code as a result of an interest in video games, and submitted his last English project as an eBook. Now clearly, I am supportive but so are his teachers.

    That said, I completely agree that curriculum is hopelessly out of date. But my sense is that teachers understand that failing.

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