Comment: No tech please, we're learning

Acorn schools eschew technology in the firm belief that this will boost learning, says London Acorn School founding director Andrew Thorne

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The colonisation and monetisation of education by technology businesses has radically altered traditional teaching methods.

Until recently, this transformation was generally uncontested in the public sphere. Maybe this was because the transformation was part of the “conventional wisdom”, the epitome of the modernist project, with ICT representing educational improvement and advancement.

This year, though, the debate shifted when two academic studies were published: one from the London School of Economics, looking at the impact of mobile phones in schools; the other from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, exploring links between ICT expenditure and academic results.

Both studies challenge the consensus, with the OECD stating that “even countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances” for reading, maths or science.

With the opening up of the public discourse, attention has shifted to those that eschew ICT, and we at the London Acorn School have become a lightning rod for the media, owing to our “traditional” approach to education at our Nailsworth and London schools.

Our starting point is a curriculum based on the child and their developmental needs. Anything that, in our view, is not beneficial to these needs is removed from the educational process – and that includes ICT.

Our emphasis is on developing the basics of education first: on the production of work that is beautiful and compelling to the child and teacher, working primarily with paper, paints, pencils, crayons and pens. From this, children learn deep concentration, craftsmanship, attention to detail and integrity.

These attributes are developed over many years, so that when a child reaches 14 they are then, in our view, in a position to use a computer or calculator to aid their studies. 

Part of the problem with ICT is that it distracts children, preventing them from immersing themselves in the work in front of them. Being capable of total absorption in a project requiring creativity and hard work is a skill we believe is necessary for a successful transition to adulthood.

ICT offers a shortcut to much of the hard work associated with developing skills around learning, specifically writing, drawing, maths and research. 

We should make it clear that as a school we are not against ICT as a whole, being neither Amish nor Luddites (some of the charges that have been made against us), and as adults we all use ICT on a daily basis (check out our Twitter feed and Facebook page).

Many of our parents in London are involved in industries that use ICT and are fully aware of its benefits and dangers. The school is fee-paying, so no family is forced to adopt our thinking. If they do not like our opt-in approach, there are plenty of mainstream alternatives. 

The Acorn perspective starts and finishes with the child. This is in contrast to ed tech companies, that are first and foremost profit-making businesses with sales teams and revenue targets. It is time for ICT businesses to demonstrate that their products really do provide the benefits they promise.

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This article is from the Ed Tech supplement available with the 15 January issue of TES. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Or find the magazine in all good newsagents. 

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  • To download the special edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Use “Bett2016” as both the username and password. 

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