Digital Literacy: Dilemma for EAL Parents

Digital Literacy: Dilemma for EAL Parents

Byanjana Sharma (Monash University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1650-7.ch013
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In the context of the practice of digital literacy in western classrooms, this book chapter explores the views of six newly arrived English as an additional language (EAL) parents and four Australian primary government school teachers on digital literacy. The EAL parents came to Australia from India, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines. The data used here are drawn from a PhD study which explores parents' and teachers' perspectives on the literacy learning of EAL children at a primary school in Victoria. Qualitative data include a questionnaire, focus group interviews, individual interviews, classroom observation and emails. The findings indicate that the teachers are positive towards digital literacy whereas the parents express mixed views. Most of the negative comments from the parents have come from their misunderstanding about how digital literacy is included in the school curriculum.
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Digital literacy is an essential part of classrooms, especially in western countries these days. It emerged simultaneously with a view of literacy as a social practice. This view emphasizes the understanding of literacy practices in their social and cultural contexts (Street, 2009). It is understood that literacy practices are context-dependent (Freebody, 2007; Street, 1993).

Digital literacy is a part of new literacies, which are associated with screen-based technologies (Snyder, 2001), and emerged in the 1980s with the digital revolution. During that period there was a huge public uptake of computers. Then in the 1990s there was a rise of the Internet and the use of hypermedia. More recently, there has been the emergence of a networked information economy (Brockmeier & Olson, 2009; Dobson & Willinsky, 2009). Thus, new literacies are connected to the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs), according to Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, and Leu (2008). In contemporary western society, literacy looks beyond mere print literacy (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000) to mean visual texts, symbolic texts, electronic texts along with print texts (Campbell & Green, 2000). Today’s children experience childhood receiving information multimodally through television, the computer screen, and electronic games (Vincent, 2006).

EAL Parents and Views of Literacy Teaching

English as an additional language (EAL) parents usually have an understanding that literacy is taught as a set of skills (Huh, 2006; Li, 2006 & 2007) which is underpinned by the view of literacy as a cognitive ability (Luke & Freebody, 1997). On the other hand, it is taught as a social practice in English-speaking countries, such as Australia (Freebody, 2007). According to this view, literacy is not treated as an isolated cognitive ability and a property of individual minds (Barton & Hamilton, 2000). Instead, it emphasises the understanding of literacy practices in their social and cultural contexts (Street, 2009).

This difference may lead to misunderstandings in EAL parents while dealing with the Australian education system, where digital literacy is an important part in the school curriculum. Research studies show that parental involvement can improve children’s learning and increase their achievement level (Barnard, 2004; Ford & Amaral, 2006; Rogers, Theule, Ryan, Adama, & Keating, 2009), regardless whether they are EAL or English-speaking parents. Sheldon and Voorhis (2004) also support family and community partnerships with schools to improve students’ literacy practices. They emphasise developing high quality programs, such as the organisation of different workshops for parents, more extensive distribution of newsletters or organisation of interactive homework (between parents and children), to encourage more parental participation. This could particularly help the new EAL parents to understand the literacy pedagogy at their children’s school.

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