Mobile phones mean young people 'can no longer read maps'

'They've got their phone and it tells them where to go to,' says Sir Anthony Seldon

Tes Reporter

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Young people can no longer read maps because they are too reliant on their phones for directions, it has been suggested.

There is a risk that modern technology is "infantilising" people, making lives easier but less "meaningful and worthwhile", according to Sir Anthony Seldon.

The vice-chancellor of Buckingham University and former independent school headteacher warned that modern satellite navigation systems are leaving youngsters unaware of their surroundings and how "space relates to other space".

Speaking at a conference on artificial intelligence in central London today, he said children "often can't read maps anymore because they're walking around town, they've got their phone and it tells them where to go to. If they're in the car they slap it on the screen - we all do that.

"What's happened, what we've lost, is our ability to understand the relationship between buildings and space," he said.

His comments come only days after Tes revealed teachers' concerns that some GCSE candidates cannot tell the time from an analogue clock prompting schools to switch to digital clocks in exam halls.

Speaking to reporters later, Sir Anthony said: "Too many young people cannot read maps, don't think of maps. They think of space in a purely transactional way, 'how am I going to get from A to B?'

"They don't think 'what is the landscape I'm going through? What is the topography, what are the buildings?'

"Whether they are walking or whether they are in cars, they just tap in the destination, have the machine in front of them and it's telling them.

"That's a shame because they're losing the sense of a relationship between themselves and the physical environment."

He added: "Maps are not only a joy in life, but they're also important to understand how space relates to other space. How different parts of the town relate to other parts of the town.

"You can see it all in two dimensions. If it is simply a transactional space, they're losing a powerful grip on reality and my worry is that this is a parable for what could happen in a thousand other applications, whereby these machines that think for you take over our thinking insidiously, they worm their way into our minds and they take over our thinking and make our lives easier, more comfortable, more convenient but less meaningful, worthwhile and profound."

The university leader said that "we will see that same process happening again and again, whereby we mortgage out our thinking to machines that make our lives simpler, but less worthwhile.

"And life is often meaningful, where there is a challenge that you overcome, when there are difficulties to overcome, and the great worry is that this infantilises us."

During his speech at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses Conference (HMC) event, Sir Anthony, who has written a new book on artificial intelligence in education, also argued that AI is the biggest thing to happen to education in centuries and suggested that it will help deal with problems in education.

AI will "individuate the learning for every child" he argued, adding "this is already happening, individuated teachers in every subject, with a face that appears on a screen that will take each of your children through with an individuated learning programme for the day, a different rate of progress in chemistry, to history".

HMC chair Chris King told delegates: "It is something of particular interest to me that we have the potential to help children who are shy and under-confident in a way that both personalises education and encourages them to take risks.

"Perhaps the prospect of depersonalising some aspects of education takes away the acute embarrassment of the shy child, so they might be prepared to risk offering an answer to a machine, to a robot, where they might be reluctant to put their hand up in class or talk directly to a teacher.

"In that way, perhaps even robots might make more sense and assist empathy in the classroom."


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