Literacy in the 21st century

The definition of literacy in the Australian Curriculum is informed by a social view of language that considers how language works to construct meaning in different social and cultural contexts. This view builds on the work of Vygotsky (1976), Brice Heath (1983), Halliday and Hasan (1985), Freebody and Luke (1990), Gee (1991, 2008), and Christie and Derewianka (2008), who have articulated the intrinsic and interdependent relationship between social context, meaning and language.

This view is concerned with how language use varies according to the context and situation in which it is used. There are important considerations for curriculum area learning stemming from this view because, as students engage with subject-based content, they must learn to access and use language and visual elements in the particular and specific ways that are the distinctive and valued modes of communication in each learning area. They need to learn how diverse texts build knowledge in different curriculum areas, and how language and visual information work together in distinctive ways to present this knowledge.  (ACARA, 2015)

A common misconception I believe that many people have, is that literacy is just about reading and writing and understanding text.  However, it is much more than this.  As the above states, literacy is about the relationships between context, meaning and language. Therefore, each of these must be understood as a unique dimension of the broader topic of literacy.  When it comes to 21st literacies, the word takes on even more dimensions than the three above as the context is not only physical but also virtual, and the meaning is very ambiguous depending on the context and people in it.

Ernest Morrell (2012) unpacks 21st literacies in some detail in his youth literacy column. He terms it as ‘critical media pedagogy’ in the conclusions he makes that whilst our students are considered digital natives, they are limited in their understanding of the constraints of and affordances provided by the vast technologies available to them. Literacy is the marriage of context, meaning and language , however, 21st century students have invented their own language in many contexts, and it is not consistently implemented across all contexts.  Digital natives have gradually invented a SMS and screen language that is shorter than short-hand, however, when they speak to each other face to face, they don’t use the same terms as much.  It is a very weird culture sometimes that technology has become the catalyst for.

I have been contemplating for a number of years now, the role of a 21st library and librarian in developing literacy in an era of such diversity.  Morrell (2012) has inspired me to think about 21st literacies in more depth, as encompassing more of the following:

  • interpreting and developing an understanding of all text types, e.g. written, imagery, audio, web-based and so much more.
  • decoding and analysing texts, e.g. “television, film, music, the Internet, print media, magazines, murals, posters, t-shirts, billboards, social networking sites, and mobile media content” (Morrell, 2013).
  • producing and reproducing knowledge in multimedia formats
  • creating digital information sources
  • discerning validity of digital information sources

And so much more…


Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2015). ‘Literacy – Background – The Australian Curriculum V7.3’. Retrieved 9 March, 2015 from

Morrell, E. (2012). 21st‐Century Literacies, Critical Media Pedagogies, and Language Arts. The Reading Teacher, 66(4), 300-302.


Important aspects for education and for a curriculum in the C21st

In one of my uni courses this week we were asked to reflect on the question: “What do you see as some of the important aspects for education and for a curriculum in the C21st?”.  It’s something I often think about but here are some of my thoughts at present.

71878108_709b04c40d_mIn July of this year, I attended the annual Ann D Clark lecture at Penrith’s Joan Sutherland theatre.  This year’s speaker was Presidential Chair and associate dean for Global and Online Education, Yong Zhao.  Yong was very thought-provoking and inspiring and spoke a lot about current aspects of education and curriculum and how they are not necessarily appropriate for the need to create entrepreneurial and creative students.  He raised some very valid points and in his book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, he dedicates an entire chapter to why a common curriculum and set of standards will not help our current and future generations of students.

The mission statement provided in the newly implemented Common Core State Standards (CCSS) of the US indicates that one purpose for its implementation is “to compete successfully in the global economy” (Zhao, 2012, p. 26).  Should the 21st century curriculum and other aspects of education be focused on the economy?  Well, I guess that it is the economy that keeps jobs alive and generally helps society to keep going as it has for so long.  Zhao also goes on to delve into the newly implemented Australian National Curriculum, and when he compares it to the US CCSS he finds that they have very similar rationales, being that they intend to create “equity, efficiency, and quality for all students to compete successfully in the global economy” (Zhao, 2012, p. 28-29).  The globalisation aspect for education and curriculum appears to be critical in the eyes of some.  Does the Australian National Curriculum foster and enable this?

3620335406_691b16543e_mWe are in the knowledge management age and that of globalisation as well so I believe personally that education, and certainly the National Curriculum, should provide opportunities for students to enter into this world with the knowledge and skills needed to be creative and entrepreneurial citizens.  Chinnammai (2005) says that students need to become global citizens, “intelligent people with a broad range of skills and knowledge to apply to a competitive, information based society” (p. 1).  Does the new national curriculum provide a broad enough scope of skills and knowledge applicable to an information-based society?  I don’t think so, I think it is far too content heavy and that students and teachers alike, get lost in the content and learning for the sake of exams, that they do not develop the necessary skills required by a global citizen.

Chinnannai (2005) also points out that “The introduction of technology into the classroom is changing the nature of delivering education to students is gradually giving way to a new form of electronic literacy , more programs and education materials are made available in electronic form, teachers are preparing materials in electronic form; and students are generating papers, assignments and projects in electronic form” (p. 2).  However, what guidelines are included in the national curriculum to guide the expectations of what students should be able to do with technology when they leave school, in order to be global citizens.  I believe that technology is a critical part of 21st century education and beyond.  Any national curriculum should include a continuum of skills that students develop as they progress throughout their schooling, that will guide their acquisition of technical skills required when they leave school.  It can’t be all content focused, we have to be realistic about what they crucially require when they enter the workforce and other study areas.  I therefore also believe that 21st century education systems, and certainly the national curriculum, needs to provide scope for differentiation and individualised pathways of learning and development to cater for all students’ needs, abilities and future endeavours, regardless of a special needs or giftedness.


Chinnammai, S. (2005, November). Effects of globalisation on education and culture. In ICDE International Conference.

Zhao, Y. (2012). World class learners. Educating creative and entrepreneurial students.

Philosophy for teens?

Another question I asked myself yesterday as I was reading was, ‘Should philosophy be taught in high schools?’.  I asked myself this question in response to a sentence I read in Kalantzis and Cope (2012) that said: “The logistics of their form [test] are such that they end to measure discrete knowledge items distilled to clear-cut and isolable facts and aphorisms drawn from theories and, specifically, items that can be adjudged right or wrong.  These may not be the best things to be measuring in an era when the questions are at times complex and ambiguous, facts contestable and theories open to interpretation.” (p. 86)  We are in an era where the prevalence of information, stimulus materials and theories are running rampant and in which teenagers are exposed to much more thought-provoking materials in the media than ever before.  I asked myself, whether it was an age in which it might be appropriate to equip students with some knowledge and skills in philosophy?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia at, philosophy can be defined as: “the general science of things in the universe by their ultimate determinations and reasons; or again, the intimate knowledge of the causes and reasons of things, the profound knowledge of the universal order”.  We are living in the ‘knowledge society’, the ‘knowledge economy’ and the era of knowledge management so it seems appropriate that we address the need for our next generation to take hold of the knowledge of these things. Apparently, according to my research, there are many high schools in Europe teaching philosophy and one site, called PLATO, gives this reason for doing so: “Philosophy can and should be taught in high school because this is the ideal time for students to engage its questions, arguments, and methods of thinking.” (, 2014).

In some ways, we are already teaching students about philosophy and equipping them with philosophic knowledge and skills in the implementation of ethics classes, religious education, and in other pedagogical practices such as inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning.  However, how can we extend the philosophy skills students develop and be intentional in teaching it?  Well, in Victoria, The Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS) has a vision to see students learn to be philosophers, “stimulating open and inquiring communities of philosophical exploration, in which students develop the art of questioning and acquire conceptual and reasoning tools” (Gelonesi, 2011).  VAPS have been crusading as well for the inclusion of philosophy in the new Australian National Curriculum, with the justification that “if young Australians are to be successful learners who are able to think deeply and logically, then young Australians will need to acquire the basic skills of philosophical inquiry: logical thought is, after all, the special provenance of philosophy” (VAPS, 2013).

It’s such a big discussion, and I could go on and on exploring and writing about it, however, for now it has got me thinking and I definitely want to pursue more philosophy study and would support and advocate for it within schools.  Much of the general capabilities in the Australian curriculum have been founded on philosophical principles and are related to philosophic concepts, therefore, it would be highly possible to be more intentional in integrating such important skills into our students’ learning.  Would love to hear what others think about this topic?


Gelonesi, J. (2011). High school philosophy. [online] Radio National. Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2014]., (2014). Teaching High School Philosophy : PLATO: Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2014]., (2014). The National Curriculum: The Case for Inclusion of Philosophy in the National Curriculum. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2014].