Using Twitter to improve literacy rate

One in five children in Britain leaves primary school without the skills needed to cope with a secondary education curriculum, said Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw. Literacy standards in Britain have recently become a cause of concern and have prompted campaigns such as The Evening Standard’s “Get London Reading”, which relies on volunteers to provide one-on-one reading tuition to those in need. But could being a bit bolder and getting children online yield better results?

A primary school in France has come up with an innovative exercise to engage its pupils with reading and writing. The new project of four groups at the school in Providence is managing a Twitter account. Children as young as 4 or 5 come up with ideas of what the messages should say, usually just updates about their activity in class. The teacher writes them up on the board in capitals, and the text is then copied and submitted to Twitter by the students themselves.

It is worth mentioning that Twitter has not replaced the traditional methods of teaching, but added an important dimension to it: interaction. On the social media website, the children can receive messages from their followers, which makes the written word much more exciting. They can communicate with their parents during the school day and keep in touch with their peers from different study groups. The motivation to learn how to read and reply to the tweets without any help from the teacher may drive them to learn much quicker than one-on-one reading sessions alone.

Corinne Vanstraceele, the headteacher of the primary school and one of the teachers who have set up a Twitter account for her class, told French newspaper Le Monde that children nowadays grow up with this technology and they can’t brush it to the side. Perhaps it’s time for more educational establishments to look at social media from a different angle. Aside from being a source of distraction for students, it could be used to engage them further. At a first glance it may seem a bit daft to introduce 4 year olds to Twitter, but we need to face the fact that it is part of their reality and part of the world in which they are growing up.

There’s another benefit to Corinne’s Twitter project. The students are introduced to the website in a controlled environment, where the service is explained to them properly and all the security measures are already in place. They can take advantage of all the good sides, and they can learn how to stay safe on the internet from a young age. Instead of letting them stumble upon Twitter or Facebook a few years later and create their own rules, they are taught the best way of making use of the service in primary school.

And then there’s the fact that using the internet has become a huge part of our lives, and it’s basically inescapable. Children need to learn their way around cyberspace as soon as possible, and learn how to enjoy the internet and stay safe at the same time. Parents may be pining for the old days of hide and seek and playing tag, but their offspring are dreaming of Nintendo DS and Xbox Kinect. Instead of shunning new technologies and banning them from schools, they should be used as an educational tool. If there’s enough will and dedication from teachers, social media could be a beneficial addition to the classroom.

This post was also published on Opinion Panel.