The ESL teacher and the ICT teacher have more in common than you may realise. In both cases, there is a learning curve. A student must master certain basics in order to be able make progress at the beginning. Both offer keys to being able to communicate more effectively. Both provide skills that have a commercial value.

However, the similarities don't stop there. To me there are two more of equal importance. What makes them even more significant is the fact that they are often overlooked. Both are taught effectively in an environment where they are iimmersed in it at all points. Also, success in both underpins academic success in other areas of the curriculum.

Information Literacy

If an English teacher in a high school was told, "We've decided we don't actually need you. Everyone here already teaches in English; so English is now a cross curricular theme that will be addressed by each subject to the extent that their students need to master it," there would be uproar! And quite rightly so.

The English specialist in a high school does more than teach reading and writing. Comprehension and communication skills are developed. No other subject would have the time or resources to devote to this essential task.

The ICT specialist faces a similar task. A high school student might be expected be expected to use a word-processor, spreadsheet and other software to present conclusions and use a computer to perform meaningful research.

This is where the buzzword, information literacy, comes in. By this I mean the set of skills necessary for a student to be able to assimilate and synthesize data from a variety of sources, processing it and effectively communicating useful information derived from it. This is something that librarians have been doing for the last 100 years. Now, we find ourselves in what has been called the information age. We may have a new vocabulary for all the skills required to make use of the tools available to us for manipulating data. However, it is essential that we assimilate good practice, whether from English Language teachers, Library Science lecturers or ICT instructors, in being able to transfer those skills effectively. To fail to do so is to fail our students.

 There is a story of a man who saved up to emigrate to the USA. Eventually, he had enough money to purchase a one way ticket on a huge ocean liner. However, he reasoned that he would not be able to afford any of the food on the liner, so he packed his suitcases with a large supply of cheese and crackers.

Every day, he looked longingly at the sumptuous meals that he saw being served in the liner's restaurants. However, even though his crackers eventually became stale and his cheese grew mould on it, he made it through the voyage.

Imagine his surprise as he disembarked, when he learned that the price of his ticket included all meals. This will give you some idea of what it means to be data-rich, but information poor. He was entitled to those meals, he had access to them, but with no information, they were of no use to him. A silly, sad story, but not a tragedy. He reached his final destination in the end.

However, to be data-rich and information poor in real life is a tragedy. Where knowledge is power, ignorance is not bliss. Those who intend to be active participants in the communities of tomorrow cannot afford not to be information literate.

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