Complementary Competencies


Image from by yohann.aberkane

It is tenable to argue that in the new digitally-saturated, media-rich world that we are immersed in, the savvy use of technology is an important life skill.  However, media or digital literacy cannot be the be all and end all. Technology cannot fully address issues on student engagement. Real-life, face-to-face interaction with others and opportunities for hands-on learning are also important. Many of the 21st Century Competencies that we talk about can also be fostered through sports, games and simply encourage children to run about in the playground.

We operate in a digital, media and virtual environment world; but the world is also concrete, material and physical. We communicate electronically mediated via technology; but communication and interaction are also face-to-face and socially experiential. We read and learn though news snippets, tweets and feeds; but reading and learning are accomplished through books and journals as well.

As we continue to explore the use of ICT to develop adaptive expertise in our students, we must be mindful not to lose the other ‘complementary competencies’, or literacies, that the heightened use of ICT may distract from and dilute. These include skills and dispositions, such as deep thought, self-reflection and sustained reading. They could be muted in a digital environment of instant answers provided by Google, short quips in less than 140 characters on Twitter or flashy Facebook status updates. It has now become refreshing to see someone in a public place with his nose stuck in a book, rather than his eyes glazed over the smartphone or tablet. Yes, the person may still be reading, but, in this case, the medium makes the message – and it is not the quite the same.

In preparation of our students to be future-ready and to be equipped with the adaptive expertise to navigate the knowledge landscape, it is important to build complementary competencies in our students for reading both on screen and in print. These complementary competencies include the ability to scan and synthesis key ideas for reading on screen as well as the ability for deep reading and sustained concentration for reading in print.

An analogy for this is the observation that many of us carry and operate 2 notebooks – our notebook device and a paper notebook. In the world we live in today, we need to develop the complementary competencies in classical domains such as literacy, numeracy, scientific understanding, as well as having fluency in multimodal literacy. We use the different affordances in the mediums that are around us, and exploit them as complementary tools for the purposes we hope to accomplish. Similarly, if students find conventional textbooks and worksheets best suited for the purposes of content mastery for the examinations, such mediums would suit best. However, if we are able to expand the learning experiences to “new” requirements where communication, collaboration, teamwork, and other forms of 21st century dispositions, present technologies may well be a better fit for such literacies.


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