A hot topic to think about as you chill out

17th August 2007 at 01:00
Manana, manana, manana. When the sun is shining and the willow tree's branches hang enticingly down to the green grass, how could anybody want to sit at a computer or desk?

Teaching during the summer term has never been popular with children and who can blame them? I remember my early teaching days, when I was a zealot firmly believing that there was nothing more life- enriching and enhancing than education.

I have an image of one pupil called, let's say, Craig. I passionately wanted this lad to experience the taste of success in maths, but was left disappointed when he didn't turn up to a lesson one hot May day.

When I asked why, he replied: "I went fishing, Miss."

It had been one of those magical weeks in early summer when every day had a blue sky, and it dawned on me that perhaps Craig had his priorities right. Why, when you are young and healthy, waste a beautiful day in a sauna-hot school when you could be sitting beside a lake, cool breeze in your face, enjoying the soothing sounds of flowing water?

I still believe passionately in education. But I no longer believe we should be trying to stuff information into pupils day-in day-out. Youngsters deserve and need time out to play, mope, read, daydream, socialise and have their own personal space.

There are other practical issues that worry me. I have supervised Year 13 pupils trying to concentrate on their A-level exams when the room temperature has been well over 80 degrees F and none of the windows could be opened "for security reasons". How could we ask them to produce quality work in that heat? In class, I've had computer hubs burn out because they were overheated.

In industry these rooms would be air-conditioned. Where is the money going to come from to air-condition our schools when global warming gets worse?

Then there is dehydration. We don't like to admit it, but school toilets were the one issue that the late Peter Clarke, Wales' first child commissioner, had clocked as one of the biggest worries to most youngsters.

Many schools offer sub-standard toilet facilities. Understandably, many pupils try to avoid using them, deliberately not drinking enough. By the afternoon on a hot day they show symptoms of dehydration and their thinking processes slow down significantly.

Who is going to improve all these facilities and make sure they are serviced so they are safe and pleasant for all pupils to use? Who is going to install drinking fountains around schools?

Politicians think they will win votes by keeping children in school during hot summers, thereby reducing parents' child care worries. But in doing so, they lose the votes of teachers, for whom the long summer holiday is undoubtedly a perk of the job.

So there you are things for you all to think about. Manana.

Helen Yewlett is a former ICT teacher

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