Curriculum 21: media and computer science - and what about media competence?

by Dr phil Bernadette Fontana

Media are now part of everyday life. They offer plenty of opportunities, but they also contain major risks and dangers. Today’s children and adolescents have to cope with them. The school has to face the task, too and – in support and cooperation with the parents – to help adolescents to develop an own internally established position for a responsible and beneficial usage of the media.

The sooner the better?

Very early was the argument fed into the public debate that the rapid development of the new technologies would make it necessary to teach children and young people how to use them from an early age on, otherwise they would be at disadvantage later on in their professional careers. This also included the phrase – being circulated for some time now – about the so-called “half-life of knowledge”, limiting the learning process to the skill, where one would have to look things up. Given the global economic development and the concern about jobs and future, this argument took effect among many parents and still today it determines – often unquestioned – the debate.

Curriculum 21 – media and computer science

The acquisition of media competence is included in Curriculum 21 by way of an interdisciplinary module “Media and Computer Science” with the following objective:

“They [the students, note of the author] are able to orient themselves in a rapidly changing world, characterized by media and information technology, to use traditional and new media and tools independently, critically and competently and to assess the associated opportunities and risks. They know rules of conduct and legal bases for a safe and socially responsible conduct in and with the media.”

Module curriculum Media and Computer science, objectives1
A high aspiration! And what is the path towards attaining this objective? Are the requirements of the curriculum in touch with the developmental-psychological conditions of children and adolescents? Does Curriculum 21 provide conclusive answers on this question or do the phrases remain empty words directed by ideology?

Application competencies are not enough!

The so-called application competencies are a priority in Curriculum 21. It is about technical aspects of “handling”, “research and learning support” and “production and presentation”, which to a large extent are to be acquired on the basis of issues and projects in German or Nature lessons, or in People and Society and Design lessons. Already in Cycle 1 (kindergarten with 1st and 2nd class) the children are to make first steps in operating the respective devices.
“Already at the beginning of the first cycle, analog and digital media offer diverse creative possibilities”.(cf. Didactic instructions, priorities at the beginning of the 1st cycle) Tests with tablets – sponsored by Samsung (see Current Concerns 9/10, 31 March) – are already conducted in this age group. That’s probably the smallest problem for the present generation, the so-called digital natives. Already three-year-old children are able to “wipe and type”. Already for a long time the media industry has been exploiting this, for example by marketing the iPod-Touch. Also entering search terms for “research and learning support” as labelled by Curriculum 21, is expected to be no problem, except for the spelling. The question, however, is, how a child is going to get along with the more than two million Internet sources, showing up for instance under the search entry “penguin”, and which of these would it reasonably use for its paper. This requirement is a basic requirement for middle school students (2nd cycle: “Students […] are able to acquire specific information from various sources, to select and evaluate them with regard to quality and utility”, MI 1.2e). In order to acquire this ability, a child would need appropriate opportunities for comparison; it would have to be able to assess the reliability of sources and especially to understand the text and to mentally “digest” it.
But it is precisely through the early application of technology at school that these comparative experiences will be more and more difficult to be had at all by the children. Their world has not widened, but narrowed. They need us adults for the establishment and the development of a healthy sense of judgement. That is part of the adults’ duty of care and responsibility and that cannot be delegated to protection programs. Therefore, application competencies, as emphasized in Curriculum 21, are not enough and are only a very small fraction of media competence.

Digital media as a tool for self-organized learning

Just as all other areas in Curriculum 21 also the curriculum module “media and computer science” is to be seen against the ideological background of pedagogical constructivism which holds that self-organized learning and competencies are the key elements of learning. In the Didactic Instructions we read among other things: “In computer science education the independent discovering has the same priority as the communication of knowledge and methods.” (cf. Computer science, promoting students’ independent discovery) Using a metaphor that would mean to position a non-swimmer at the edge of a deep water basin saying: “Just jump into the water and find your personal way how to swim!”
Accordingly, the competence development from kindergarten to graduation is characterized by the idea of self-organized learning. Fiddling around on a computer and fishing on the Internet instead of instructions and interpersonal support by a teacher – a way into solitude with all its psychological consequences, such as the not insignificant risk of addiction development. But the parents are responsible for such problems: “The educational responsibility for the media use of children and young people outside the school lies with the parents and guardians.” (cf. Didactic instructions, media.)

It starts with cooking, baking and dancing …

“The pupils are able to analyze simple problems, identify possible solutions and implement them in programs”, the construction of this competency in computer science already begins in kindergarten and in the lower grades when cooking, baking, playing:
“… are able to recognize formal instructions and follow them (for example, cooking and baking recipes, games and crafts instructions, dance choreography).” (Cf. MI 2.2 a)
And where is the kindergarten teacher or lower secondary teacher who instructs the children in this joyous and educational activities, thereby fostering the community activities and showing how to maintain friendships and to work together in a team? Where is the class community sharing the cake, showing off a little dance to the parents or being pleased with the shining eyes of those who have received their piece of handicraft? Are children’s needs and developmental tasks here instrumentalized for building up computer technology skills?
Continuing with the students of 3rd to 6th grade:
“... can write and test programs with loops, conditional statements and parameters.” (cf. MI 2.2 f)
Finally this capacity building ends with the basic demand on the eighth-graders:
“... can formulate self-developed algorithms in the form of executable and correct computer programs with variables and subroutines.“ (cf. MI 2.2 h)
Here the central question arises whether the „fundament“ for all these skills does actually exist.
Media competence does not just mean being able to “use” the computer
For a responsible approach to the computer far more than the technical handling is required. The interview with Uwe Buermann clearly shows how complex the requirements are, which a user of digital media has to face. Lots of schools are already busy getting to grips with the undesirable consequences of their pupils’ Internet use (such as cyberbullying). Of course, there are also proficiency levels in Curriculum 21, for example for the 2nd cycle:
“The students can recognize and name consequences of media and virtual actions (e.g. identity formation, relationship management, cyberbullying).“ (cf. M 1.1 c)
This may result in a test question for the proposed educational monitoring. How the emotional foundations for that can be acquired, however, is nowhere described.
Not even the cross-reference to a competency level of “Nature, man and society“ can help, that is supposed to show on the basis of what topics they may acquire these skills: “Pupils can question stereotypes and prejudices about people with other lifestyles for example on the school grounds, in media, politics”. (cf. NMG 7.1 e)
Media education is a much more complex matter. If it is not only to stay on the surface and to be limited to theoretically testable knowledge, it must be appropriate to the developmental conditions in the personality of the child and adolescent and to the development and the maturity of the respective age group. Unfortunately, you‘re searching such information in the curriculum module “Media and Computer Science” in vain!

Media competence is not possible without cultural abilities and psychological maturity

Media competence education is a challenging capacity and the independent use of the Internet stands at the end of this process. Its presuppostitions cannot be acquired at the computer. Yet, these presuppostitions are the fundament without which nothing works. Media literacy is often referred to as the “new cultural capacity”. Uwe Buermann writes:
“When they call media literacy the new culture ability, this does not mean that the traditional cultural skills would be superfluous. It is important to note the order: After the formation of the classical cultural abilities, media literacy is the necessary skill of the present. As has been shown, the training of other skills is an essential component of media literacy education. Who wants to secure the future lives of today’s children, has to make sure that the basic skills are trained! Of course, the computer belongs in schools, not as a substitute for existing educational concepts, though, but as an additional supplement in adolescence.”2
In other words, a stable basis in German, mathematics and a good general knowledge are prerequisites for young people to grow up with a good education backpack and extended interests in peoples and the world. This includes a secure foundation in mathematics, which allow an understanding of the legalities of the computer. Equally important is the sovereign command of one’s mother tongue and a broad general education, which includes far more than testable user knowledge. The same applies to handwriting, an important cultural skill, which not only connects to the fellow human being in a very personal way, but own thoughts can also be arranged and developed spontaneously. Therefore, the education of these basic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic, independent thinking) is an essential part of media literacy education and must remain the central content of school education independent of the computer. Just as little, social skills, responsibility, empathy, creativity can be learned at the computer. They need the emotional confrontation in the relationship with a You. Here do parents and schools have a common task. We adults have to give adolescents the time and the opportunity to address these development tasks. Only the final point of such a development is media literacy, worthy of its name.

Back to square 1

Therefore, media education first of all involves the careful development of intellectual and emotional basic skills. Thereafter, the computer can be used to deal with more complex tasks. If this step is done too early or on an unstable foundation, it means scoring an own goal for those who call for the early use of digital media in schools as a model for the future, as it is requested in Curriculum 21. Thus, the masters and employees would also be better off, even if today working on the computer is part of many occupations (enticing the call for early computer use at school). Curriculum 21 misses the chance to give an instruction to competent media education. One can only say: Back to square 1! Perhaps in a second attempt it would be worth looking beyond the horizon, to the media concept of the city of Wil3. This mature concept takes all these aspects into consideration. As early as in 2012, it was ready for testing.     •

1    The quotations from the Curriculum 21 are always taken from the module curriculum “media and computer science”, from now on the detailed descriptions are listed only.
2 (accessed 24.4.2015)
3     Board of Education of the city of Wil. Concept media literacy at schools of the city of Wil. Basic information and measures for a meaningful use of new media at home and at school. Wil 2012. (accessed 24.4.2015)

Further literature and websites:
Curriculum 21, media and computer science.
Final Report of the Working Group on Media and computer science in the Curriculum 21.
Buermann, Uwe. Aufrecht durch die Medien. Chancen und Gefahren des Informationszeitalters und die neuen Aufgaben der Pädagogik (Upright through the media. Opportunities and threats of the information age and the new tasks of education). 2007. Publisher Flensburger Hefte. ISBN 978-3-935679-38-1 (homepage Uwe Buermann, here you will find several of his articles, accessed 21.4.2015) (Interview Uwe Buermann to Curriculum 21, accessed on 21.04.2015)

Bergmann, Wolfgang. Die Welt der neuen Kin­der. Erziehen im Informationszeitalter. (The world of the new children. Educating in the Information Age.) Dusseldorf 2000. ISBN 3-530-30061-6

Youth and Media. National Programme for the promotion of media literacy (ed.) Eukids online Schweiz. Schweizer Kinder und Jugendliche im Internet: Risikoerfahrungen und Umgang mit Risiken. (Eukids Online: Switzerland. Swiss children and adolescents on the Internet: risk experience and dealing with risks.) March 2013.  (accessed 21.4.2015)

Felber, Ursula and Eliane Gautschi. Die Trojanische Maus. Lernen für die Zukunft. (The Trojan mouse. Learning for the future.) Committee for a Democratic primary school Zurich. 2002.

Görig, Carsten. Gemeinsam einsam. Wie Facebook, Google& Co unser Leben verändern. (Together lonely. How Facebook, Google & Co. are changing our lives.) Zurich. 2011. ISBN 978-3-280-05422-2.

Greenwald, Glenn. Die globale Überwachung. Der Fall Snowdon, die merikanischen Geheimdienste und die Folgen. (The global monitoring. The Snowden case, the US secret services and the consequences.) Munich 2014. ISBN 978-3-426-27635-8

Heuer, Stefan and Pernille Tranberg. Mich kriegt ihr nicht! Gebrauchsanweisung zur digitalen Selbst­verteidigung. (You won’t get me! Instructions for digital self-defense.) Hamburg 2013. ISBN 978-3-86774-243-6

School Board of the city of Wil. Concept media literacy at schools of the city of Wil. Basic information and measures for a meaningful use of new media at home and at school. Wil 2012. (accessed 24.4.2015)

Stoll, Clifford. Logout. Warum Computer nichts im Klassenzimmer zu suchen haben und andere High-Tech-Ketzereien. (Logout. Why computers have no place in the classroom and other high-tech heresies.) Frankfurt am Main. 2001.  ISBN 3-10-040220-0

Turkle, Sherry. Die Wunschmaschine. Der Computer als zweites Ich. (The dream machine. The computeras an alter ego.) Hamburg 1986