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6 minutes reading time (1289 words)

An Important Component of Computer Literacy

As best as I can tell, the term Computer Literacy was first used in two different publications published at about the same time in 1972 (Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, April, 1972; Luehrmann, Spring, 1972). By then computers had been commercially available for about 20 years and were beginning to have a significant impact on the world (Moursund, 2016).

Quoting from Arthur Luehrmann (Spring, 1972):

Mass computing literacy is not an agreed-upon educational goal. Today very few courses at any educational level show students how to use computing as an intellectual tool with applications to the subject matter being taught. Oh, there are a few isolated, subject-matter-free courses in computer programming; but their market is largely restricted to vocational-education students, at one end of the spectrum, and future computer professionals at the other. It is true that most schools consider it prestigious to have a large and powerful computer facility; but the fact of the matter is that such computers are usually the captives of research and administrative interests and operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. Ironically, it is in the most prestigious universities that students are least likely to be permitted to use those prestigious computers. It is a rare secondary school, college, or university that budgets and operates its computer facility in the same way that it budgets and operates its library. … In the main, literacy in computing simply is not an educational goal at many schools. Most educators seem to find bizarre the suggestion that accreditation agencies examine schools for the quality of their educational computing facilities, just as they now do with libraries.

If the computer is so powerful a resource that it can be programmed to simulate the instructional process, shouldn’t we be teaching our students mastery of this powerful intellectual tool? Is it enough that a student be the subject of computer administered instruction—the end user of a new technology? Or should his education also include learning to use the computer (1) to get information in the social sciences from a large database inquiry system, or (2) to simulate an ecological system, or (3) to solve problems by using algorithms, or (4) to acquire laboratory data and analyze it, or (5) to represent textual information for editing and analysis, or (6) to represent musical information for analysis, or (7) to create and process graphical information? These uses of computers in education cause students to become masters of computing, not merely its subjects. [Bold added for emphasis.]

From quite early on there was heated debate about whether computer literacy meant students needed (1) to learn to program computers in one or more computer languages, or (2) whether it sufficed that students understood general capabilities and limitations of computers, how to use computers as tools, and how computers were affecting our society. In the early years, the supporters of computer programming prevailed. Some early history of computer literacy is presented in the short booklet, Precollege Computer Literacy: A Personal Computing Approach (Moursund, 1983).

Computer Literacy

However, as libraries of computer applications software grew and large numbers of people began to have access to word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics applications, such tool use eventually dominated. Nowadays, the debate continues. Computer programming has made a substantial comeback with Scratch and other new programming languages (MIT, 2016).

My Suggested Addition to Computer Literacy

Most people accept that Reading, Writing, and Math are the “basics” of education. Today, Information Retrieval/Information Literacy is increasingly considered to be a fourth basic. This includes retrieving information and determining its validity and credibility (Moursund & Sylwester, 2015).

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is both an aid to learning each of these four education basics and also an aid to doing/using each of these basics. ICT is so intertwined in these four basics that many people now consider it to be a fifth basic.

This brings us to the question of the level of ICT knowledge and skills needed by all students. In this short IAE Blog entry, I am not arguing for or against either of the two current approaches to computer literacy discussed earlier. Instead, I propose adding a third goal. We live in a world in which ICT is ubiquitous and is of steadily increasing capabilities. I propose that:

All students should learn about and routinely use ICT as an integral component of learning and using the four basics of reading, writing, math, and information retrieval/information literacy throughout their required and elective coursework.

This recommendation is applicable to our K-12 educational system and also to higher education. It is already well entrenched in some precollege and higher education institutions, but has a very long way to go in others.

Obviously, there are many barriers to fully implementing this recommendation. Among them is the fact that many teachers currently lack the ICT knowledge and skills to implement this approach in the courses and subjects they teach. Implementation requires the substantial improvement of ICT facilities in schools and in the hands of students, both at home and at school. It requires integration of such ICT knowledge and skills into students’ formative, summative, and long-term residual impact assessment. Finally, it requires an acceptance of the situation that we are living during a time of rapid changes in ICT and other technologies. To remain “modern,” an educational system needs both to keep up with such changes and to prepare students for a lifetime of such changes.

Here is another difficulty. At all levels of our precollege and higher educational systems, some students know a lot more about ICT than do some of their current teachers. Perhaps this problem is a larger challenge at the elementary school level (where most teachers are expected to cover the whole curriculum) than it is at higher levels where the teachers mainly teach in their speciality area(s). Elementary teachers have long had to cope with students who knew more about dinosaurs or other specific topics than they did. But, ICT is no longer such a specific area. We should move rapidly toward elementary school teachers having the same ICT knowledge and skills as those spelled out for secondary students in the ISTE Standards: Students

published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, 2016). Teachers in secondary schools and in higher education should all meet these ISTE standards and additionally have much deeper ICT knowledge and skills in the subjects they teach.

What You Can Do

We all want students at all levels to get a good education that prepares them for their futures. Examine your own current knowledge and skills in ICT, and also your insights into how ICT has changed and is changing our world. Apply the insights you gain through this process to the roles you play in the informal and formal education of today’s students and to yourself.

References and Resources

Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences Committee on Computer Education (April, 1972). Recommendations regarding computers in high school education. Retrieved 4/2/2016 from .

ISTE (2016). ISTE standards: Students. International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved 4/4/2016 from

Luehrmann, A. (Spring, 1972). Should the computer teach the student, or vice versa? Spring Joint Computer Conference Proceedings. Vol. 40, AFIPS, Montvale, NJ. Retrieved4/2/2016 from

MIT (2016). Scratch. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Retrieved 4/4/2016 from

Moursund, D. (2016). Computer literacy in 1972. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 4/2/2016 from

Moursund, D. (4/1/2016). Three simple ideas about computers in education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/2/2016 from

Moursund, D. (1983). Precollege computer literacy: A personal computing approach. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 4/4/2016 from

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R. (eds.) (2015). Validity and credibility of information. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Access PDF file at and Microsoft Word file at

What You [and Others] Can Do
Three Simple Ideas about Computers in the Curricul...


Guest - mohit poddar (website) on Monday, 15 April 2019 10:44

Nice article.
Here I just want to add the importance of computer literacy in work.
1. Almost all the works are done by computers.
2. Letters are replaced by email.
3. Research is no longer manual.
4. Information storage.

For more information check here...

Nice article. Here I just want to add the importance of computer literacy in work. 1. Almost all the works are done by computers. 2. Letters are replaced by email. 3. Research is no longer manual. 4. Information storage. For more information check here...
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