Ain't nothing like the real thing

24th January 2003 at 00:00
THEYmust be feeling pretty smug in the Department for Education and Skills, as their latest cunning plan comes to fruition. You can imagine the self-congratulation:

"Online facilities all in place then, Carruthers?"

"Yes, sir. The whole curriculum is now available in interactive chunks at the touch of a button."

"Good show. And the teaching assistants are ready to go?

"Yes, indeed. Thousands on standby all round the country. Just a question of making sure they can turn on the interactive whiteboard, and switch off at the end of the lesson. Once we get the go-ahead for them to take classes, it'll be all systems go."

"Splendid. So the minute we get universal broadband access, we're home and dry. A centralised education service at minimal cost. And an end to the recruitment crisis. It's the sunlit uplands at last, Carruthers. Just as well no one spotted what we were up to, eh?"

Shall we tell them? It's been obvious for ages what they're up to, with their pathetic faith in IT and swamping of schools with teaching assistants. Interactive teaching packages, "delivered" by untrained staff, and it's obvious to anyone who ever taught that it won't work. Splendid, but the new generation of online resources are just resources.

Like all teaching materials, they need teachers to mediate between them and the learners. Teachers: educated human beings who can engage the interest of 30-odd disparate souls, keep them focused and happy, ask the right questions, guide discussion, check what they've learnt, while catering for a range of special needs and dealing with the unpredictable things that happen in every school day.

There's no way that this can be done by machines manned by low-paid assistants, many of whom weren't lucky enough to have received much of an education themselves.

Sorry, Carruthers.

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