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Posted 13 Feb 2024

Is Literacy Becoming Obsolete?

The Assistive Technology revolution is in full swing. In the late twentieth century, computer assisted reading and writing developed a foothold in the disability community. People with sensory and motor disabilities became able to write and consume literature via speech-to-text and text-to-speech packages which adapted to their standard software. Dyslexic and ADHD people also found that the technology enabled faster processing, which eased the transfer of information into the memory, improving overall comprehension and learning. Fast forward to 2024, and we have nothing short of a revolution. Such technologies are embedded into everyday life via our mobile phones, laptops and reading tablets – even eyeglasses.

In the workplace, assistive technology is frequently prescribed as a disability adjustment or accommodation. Listening to emails out loud or dictating the return email is useful for a wide range of conditions like those mentioned above, but also anyone with chronic fatigue or living with pain. Coupled with ever more sophisticated predictive text and spell checkers, what level of literacy knowledge is currently needed for the twentieth century workforce?

Reading As A Transition Technology

The arrival of the printing press dates back over a thousand years, from primitive metal structures in Korea, wooden blocks in China to goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg in 1436, in Germany. However, the industrial revolution brought a steam powered press and along with the expansion of cities, factory work and public education created in sea change in the way humans communicated. From oral traditions, poetry, theatre and song to textbooks, newspapers and pamphlets in a few generations. Those who couldn’t read became disabled and their ability to develop their careers – even in jobs which didn’t require reading for delivery, such as construction, nursing and story telling – became inaccessible to the illiterate.

Yet, as our technology has progressed to the ubiquitous video reels of social media, e-learning and live video lectures, are we evolving past our dependency on literacy as a form of mass communication and media? Perhaps literacy is becoming an option of communication rather than an essential. Such a change would liberate those who are highly talented in visual, spatial, verbal forms of communication but struggle with the 2D sequencing of complex text. It provides access to advanced scholarship which is currently behind the grammar and spelling paywall.

Where Does This Leave Our Schools?

So if our workforce is transitioning to paperless offices and video call briefings, our schools need to consider how we are preparing the next generation. The current UK policies to prioritize advanced grammar, joined up handwriting and harsh penalties for spelling errors are out of step with the future society today’s children will join. Schools need to get competent at augmenting learning with Assistive Technology, to prevent children from falling behind on developing their critical thinking and creativity skills due to a 2D processing issue which is now easily surmountable.

Assistive Technology experts Microlink have teamed up with HSBC to deliver a program called “Be thAT Teacher,” which provides basic training for teachers, by teachers in technology which is often available for free, as part of everyday word processing and mobile phones.

Be ThAT Teacher!

Programme Director Nic Ponsford said: “Technology is the equaliser for our time. As the digital revolution continues, schools need to provide inclusive teaching and learning practices for all students that not only utilise new technologies for our learners today, but for their future needs too. “This fully funded ‘Be ThAT Teacher’ programme is a joyous celebration of EdTech and the universal model of design, meaning classrooms and curriculums can be easily personalised for students and their cognitive, physical and emotional needs, all at the push of a button. “I am proud to be leading on this and thank you HSBC!”

Participating teachers and leaders have had nothing but praise for this education initiative. Chris Ayling from Warren Park School in Hampshire said: “The Microlink AT training has transformed the way we look at inclusive teaching and learning. Developing our understanding and awareness of assistive technology has enabled us to maximise the way we can open up our curriculum for all children. “The AT training provided valuable insights into the transformative nature of assistive technology, enabling personalised learning experiences for all students in our classrooms, not just those with recognised needs. “I am genuinely enthusiastic about the immense possibilities AT offer, extending far beyond the confnes of the classroom.” Said Chris. “Assistive technology has the potential to become indispensable tools in our daily lives, serving as a comprehensive life toolkit.”

Business In The Community

The “be thAT teacher” combined initiative heralds better collaboration between businesses and schools – essential for preparing us for the future of work which will be AI-rich and data-driven. We need a workforce which can concentrate on making meaningful insights, understanding patterns and trends, not stuck at stage one because they can’t hold a pen easily or focus on a screen. Malintha Fernando MBE, HSBC Head of Accessibility said: “At HSBC we understand the power of technology to change lives and be a provider of opportunity. We are proud to partner with Microlink to create a more inclusive education system.

Technology entrepreneur and founder of Microlink, Dr Nasser Siabi OBE says: “our mantra is “Creating pathways of opportunity from the classroom to the boardroom, for every child” by removing any barrier to learning that might exist. We hope Be ThAT Teacher is a small step in the right direction.” How you can get involved Our ambition is to bring this programme to another 1000 schools over the next two years. We invite more schools to join us on this journey. Another opportunity to join the programme commences on 21st February 2024.


With programs like this in place, it might soon be possible to reduce the demands on remedial teaching for children who struggle, and instead focus their attention on building the skills they will need for their career, nurturing their creativity and communication preferences. We have to remember that literacy was never about the method, it was always about communicating knowledge and ideas. If we can do knowledge transfer inclusively for a more diverse spectrum of brains and bodies, we unlock access to learning more efficiently. This is a generational transformation in terms of the future workforce, who will arrive better prepared, more confident and able to reach their full potential.