21st century skills and digital literacy

Literacy was once seen as synonymous with reading, or with reading and writing, the term is now generally accepted as a much broader range of practices within education (Louden, Rohl, Barratt-Pugh, Brown, Cairney, Elderfield, . . . & Rowe, 2005. Cited in Henderson, 2012, p. 6).

Students in the 21st century engage with texts from a variety of sources, which use multiple types of languages. Literacy can now be defined as the ability to understand and use literacy practices within a range of contexts and technologies, in socially responsible ways, in a socially, culturally, and linguistically diverse world and participate in life as an active and informed citizen (Bull & Anstey, 2006).

Kalantzis & Cope (2009, p. 166) suggests that ‘a pedagogy of multiliteracies would need to address this as a fundamental aspect of contemporary teaching and learning’. With this in mind, we start to see the dynamic nature of literacy and how it has changed of time.

The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians states “Rapid and continuing advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are changing the ways people share, use, develop and process information and technology. In this digital age, young people need to be highly skilled in the use of ICT.”

When reviewing the videos; Singapore’s 21st-Century Teaching Strategies (Education Everywhere Series) and Silicon Valley school with no computers. The two schools are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. On one end the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, which has no computers or internet is trying to provide what they refer to as a “natural way to raise children” and a “slow paced developmental childhood” (Edutopia, 2012, March 14). A personal concern is that this reflects the industrial style model which is no longer sufficient for modern society and the demands of the workforce. Interestingly, students from Waldorf do not complete standardised test, and therefore success in their methods cannot be measured. However, the real test, students face will be integration into workforce, or tertiary education and training where the use of digital technologies are a required and considered a social norm.

Ngee Ann Secondary School in Singapore is a “Future School” emphasising the use of technology, digital media, and the integration of 21st century skills. Rather than looking a technology as a distraction, it is viewed as an opportunity as engagement. Ngee Ann has looked at the changing role of the teacher as a facilitator, and no longer having the monopoly of information or knowledge (CNN, 2012, March 13).

When we look at 21st century skills, a major influence on literacy developments is the implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into classroom practices. A multiliteracies framework is an important tool for educators, as it highlights two major changes within the teaching profession. They are the “growing significance of cultural and linguistic diversity” and the “influence of new communication technologies” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2001).


Bull, M., & Anstey, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (February, 2001). Putting ‘Multiliteracies’ to the Test. Newsletter of the Australian Literacy Educators Association. Retrieved from https://www.alea.edu.au/documents/item/59

Louden, W., Rohl, M., Barratt-Pugh, C., Brown, C., Cairney, T., Elderfield, J., . . . & Rowe, K. (2005). In Teachers’ Hands. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 28(3), 181-253

Edutopia. (2012, March 14). Singapore’s 21st-Century Teaching Strategies (Education Everywhere Series). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_pIK7ghGw4

CNN. (2012, March 13). Silicon Valley school with no computers. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUxLKik3zNA



2 thoughts on “21st century skills and digital literacy”

  1. Thanks for your post. You make a compelling argument for 21st century learning. The rapid pace at which technology proliferates within the wider community and crosses into education is a daunting prospect. We as educators must be prepared to undergo professional development to keep pace. I believe that digital technologies if properly implemented and carefully selected could have significant effects on the literacy outcomes of our students.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s