Posts tagged Walter Ong

Paper Presented in Karaganda – “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy”

 The Kyrgyz proverb “Getting education is like digging a well with a needle.” [Bilim iyne menen kuduk kazghandai] is a familiar saying shared by the Kazakh culture as well. When exploring how to successfully teach Information Literacy, it would seem a very deep well to dig indeed.  This paper will use the proverbial “needle” to define terms such as Orality and Info literacy, as well as explain my own experience teaching composition and how writing relates to the oral traditions of Kazakhstan.


What is Orality?

All cultures learn to communicate orally, in fact, according to Walter Ong’s (1982), a 1971 study showed there were 3,000 languages and only 78 had a written literature. Given those same odds in today’s volatile age, it is necessary for diplomacy between nations to better understand oral cultures rather than vice versa.  Ong argues that “many of the contrasts often made between ‘western’ and other views seem reducible to contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness” (p. 29).


Obviously Walter Ong’s seminal work in 1982 needs to be unpacked in greater detail, yet the focus of this paper is to look beyond his research to the present technology age of computers.  However, before I proceed, I am intrigued by the work done by Lev Vygotsky’s devotee, Aleksandr Romanovich Luria.  In 1931-32, Dr. Luria researched the oral cultures of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as a neuropsychologist.  He did extensive fieldwork comparing oral and literate subjects in remote areas which will shed some light on Walter Ong’s life work concerning the term he coined of “Orality.” 


What is Information Literacy?

According to Caroline Stern as cited by Christine Bruce (2002) there are at least five different kinds of literacies: 1) Alphabetic – write name; 2) Functional – read and write; 3) Social literacy – communication in cultural context: 4) Information literacy – critical location, evaluation and use of information; 5) Digital information literacy – application of information’s literacy in the digital environment.  In the same powerpoint produced by Bruce, Patricia Breivik (2000) defines “info literacy IS NOT…teaching a set of skills but rather a process that should transform both learning and the culture of communities for the better.”


Kazakhstan’s Digital Inequality and Digital Divide

President Nazarbayev is no doubt very aware of the tension between his own Kazakh culture of oral traditions and the technological world he is surrounded by in our globalized economy.  He ordered by Presidential Decree on September 15, 2006 to build the “Information Technology Park” in Alatau IT City, near Almaty with completion sometime in 2011. A quote taken by Nurlan Zhagipavov may exemplify the President’s thinking:


“It seems to me that the intelligent people and business elite of the country must join and create joint educational projects so as to restore and save the High School.  Liquidation of ‘digital inequality’ has to start from this” (p. 35).


A year before in 2005, UNESCO gave funding for a grant titled “Kazakhstan: Electronic Library in Rural Areas for Reducing Digital Divide.”  Strides are being made at the university I teach at, to help our incoming first year students to understand the power of the electronic library right on our university campus.


What are Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants?
The two phrases “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” were coined by Marc Prensky (2001) in an article he wrote by that title.  According to Prensky, the definition for “digital natives” is what my typical university students are in today’s classroom, “they are all native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”  The quandary most older teachers who fit the “digital immigrant” category are facing, according to Prensky, is they “speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”


According to Prensky (2001) Digital Natives are used to receiving information very quickly, they like to parallel process and multi-task.  However, Digital Immigrants have little appreciation for these new skills the “digital natives” use because they are totally foreign to them.  Digital Immigrants prefer to teach the way they learned, “slowly, step-by-step, one thing at a time, individually and above all, seriously.”  When I heard Marc Prensky speak at a tech conference in 2002, sadly he quoted an American high school student complain, “Every time I go to school, I have to power down.”  Despite oral traditions still being extremely important in Central Asian countries, I believe writing teachers of the 21 st century, the world over, need to keep pace with “Info Literacy.”




Bruce, C. (2002). Seven faces of information literacy: Towards inviting students into new experiences,, retrieved on Oct. 25, 2008


Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.


“Purchases on the Internet? Reality!” (2008). World Monitor, Kazakhstan, 3(14), 34-35.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, NCB University Press, 9(5).


“Special Economic Zone – Information Technology Park.” (2008). World Monitor, Kazakhstan, 4(15), 46-47.





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