Letter from a NSW primary TL

It is great to hear that the new Federal Labor government is addressing issues of education – and Information Technology in school libraries.  But it is essential that more computers are supported with more resources for libraries in terms of time and wages for increased Teacher Librarian and clerical support hours or the new computers will be of no more value than slapping bandaids onto a gaping wound. 

Imagine a small public primary school in a low socio-economic area. 

  • A school with a high Aboriginal and high NESB population, where literacy and numeracy are often not valued at home, and where social and behavioural issues affect every minute of teaching time in the classroom, and the library.
  • The physical surrounds have been refreshed after some ‘human intervention’, so the school is quite well endowed with relatively new computers, in the library and in the classrooms.
  • A Teacher Librarian has been appointed one day a week and covers Release From Face-to-Face (RFF) time for each classroom teacher, with 24 minutes for her own RFF and 40 minutes Administration allocation.  An Assistant is also in the library for half of that day.
  • Being with each class for only an hour a week means that the Teacher Librarian has to work very hard to get to know the students and encourage their cooperation and learning.  While hours might be spent preparing simple but at time innovative programs incorporating literature, Information Technologies and Information Skills, the Teacher Librarian consistently struggles with major behavioural issues.  These may be anything from constant interruptions and rudeness to name calling, swearing, defiance, fighting, throwing chairs and students leaving the library without permission – perhaps in anger over being told off, because of teasing by another student, in defiance…..
  • When computers are used, there’s the issue of the way the state department computer system has been set up (eg. frequent problems with students’ passwords not working, the system crashing) as well as the way the school’s system has been set up and is operated (eg. since updates not opening to an easily navigable page, high turn over of students meaning always some students often don’t have valid passwords, and records of these are not kept well up to date, external support is rarely called because it has to be paid for so problems stay and must be worked around).  The Teacher Librarian has tried a number of ways to overcome all these but they are all hard, slow work. 
  • Many of the students don’t have access to computers at home, and/or see computers as essentially a source of games.  Generally they are reluctant and disempowered learners at the best of times, with little or no independence.  This means that they need to be SHOWN what to do, step by step, or they become frustrated, angry, uncooperative and dismissive.  A data projector would help with this, but there is no money for a data projector.  A group demonstration on one computer must be followed by individual guidance for most students on individual computers.  Meanwhile, while the Teacher Librarian is occupied working with one or two students, others do nothing, slip over onto computer games or riot in the background.

Increased allocation for Teacher Librarian time in all schools, but most particularly in smaller schools and in schools in lower socio-economic areas, is essential so that:

 ·         Teacher Librarians and teachers can work co-operatively, allowing more support for student’s learning

 ·         Teacher Librarians can become a real part of the school and not a visitor, connecting in with the development of teaching and learning programs in real ways, providing continuity and support for both staff and students, using their skills and knowledge as Information Skills and Technology specialists, a regular part of the students’ life

 ·         Teacher Librarians can make a significant and meaningful contribution to teaching Information Technologies and Information Skills, literacy and numeracy in all schools, especially those where the need is the highest.

Unless this happens, students reaching high school and gaining a computer each, as this government has promised, will be no better off in their learning.  They will still be struggling with basic learning using computers and be like their ‘big brothers and sisters’ in nearby secondary schools who refuse to make any attempt to use Information Skills other than ‘googling’ the entire essay question and cutting and pasting from any websites which the search may bring up.

TIME and EXPERTISE to learn to use computers effectively for research and writing is necessary if students learning in the new millennium are to be successful life long learners and information users.  Who better to support that learning than Teacher Librarians?  So what support will be given to them?

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