What do the game of golf and the Pokémon Go smartphone game have in common? Both – as Mark Twain probably didn’t say – are a good walk spoiled. And a good walk is the finest thing in the world. To deny oneself a gentle saunter is to remove the 99 Flake from life’s Mr Whippy.
If I want to connect with my children, I go for a stroll around the neighbourhood with them, chatting and spotting woodlice, bees and spiders along the way. An ants’ nest between the cracks in the pavement is more than enough to thrill an appropriately trained eight-year-old.
But it seems for some members of the iPhone generation, a little promenade with the possibility of a shieldbug sighting is no longer enough. Most city streets are packed with a real-life Pokémon jamboree of slugs, beetles and ladybirds if you know where to look. But some of our young reportedly now only venture outside if they can search for mythical creatures on their phone screens. It is being hailed as a revolution that could get our supposedly lazy youth moving again and solve the obesity timebomb.
In this week’s report about educators’ thoughts on the game, some have argued it is ripe for educational exploitation. Anything this popular is surely worth harnessing to inspire bored, modern-day kids hypnotised by their phone screens.
And the ideas are flowing already – 76 resources have been uploaded to the TES website since the game’s release in July and more will surely follow when schools across the UK go back.
But others quoted in the report said that they hated Pokémon and wanted to avoid anything to do with it in the classroom.
I’m not a teacher and can understand why some might want to piggy back on its popularity to teach the times tables, or get children looking at the history and geography of their local area, but I’m afraid I fall in the latter camp.
Just because technology is there, it doesn't mean we have to use it
While I have nothing against fun cartoon characters, the whole affair is utterly depressing. Over the years, schools in the UK have already been subject to mass brainwashing over education technology. From electronic whiteboards to learning platforms, so much has failed to live up to its promise and it takes a special kind of teacher to use it effectively.
The new e-School in the Western Isles seems like a pragmatic solution to educational inequalities in remote places, for example.
But it also takes a special kind of teacher to know when to ignore technology entirely where appropriate. The fact our children are so fixated with their devices is a testament to how we have over-protected them from almost non-existent threats, kept them indoors in front of screens to gobble down facts and spit them out in endless exams. To make school another place where screen-use is the default setting sets them up for a gloomy future.
They have the rest of their lives to stare into the bowels of the internet – there is no great urgency to “prepare” them for high-tech careers at aged 7. It should be schools’ jobs to open pupils’ eyes to the world and point out the marvellous morsels of nature that surround us.
So, let the kids enjoy their funny game, I’m sure it is not without educational value. But just because technology is there, it doesn’t mean we have to use it or that we are stubborn luddites if we shun it.
For children, everything is new and the real world is fascinating if they have a suitable guide.
So when you ask me which comes out on top in a game of Top Trumps, Charizard Pokémon versus real-life daddy long legs? I say “no contest”.