Arnold's World;Opinion

10th April 1998 at 01:00
As the government has surely noted, the root cause of our "dependency culture"

can be traced to life in the womb.

For nine long and lazy months, the average foetus is happy to receive free sustenance, accommodation, heating and transportation while doing precious little in return, except administer the odd kick and float fleetingly into focus for the routine ultra-sonic scan.

Far be it from me to criticise those who cannot answer back, but it must be said that the unborn could be making far better use of their time. Only last month, the British Psychological Society were informed of exciting research being carried out at Bath and Keele universities. Scientists have shown that newborn babies can recognise tunes that they first heard in the womb at the age of only 20 weeks.

To prove their point, the researchers, for some odd reason, chose to subject pregnant mums' tums to a medley of Welsh folk songs - handy if the foetuses in later years decide to holiday in Llandudno but hardly a fitting preparation for life in Cool Britannia. American mothers don't stop at music. It seems that they are making extensive use of the "Fetal Phone". This ingenious gadget consists of a cone-shaped loudspeaker which the modern mum who really cares about her child's education straps on to her stomach. This is connected to a mouthpiece by a length of plastic tube down which she can broadcast.

While Britain's unborn babies float in their amniotic soup, bored out of their tiny minds, their American peers are being treated to lullabies, nursery rhymes, prayers and - if mum accidentally points the mouthpiece at the television - excerpts from the Oprah Show or The X Files.

The beauty of the Fetal Phone is that it functions in only one direction. The foetus has no facility for answering back, or taking the phone off the hook.

It is a captive audience. It might well feel that it has listened to as many renditions of "I'm a Little Teapot" as it can stomach but there is absolutely nothing that the poor soul can do about it. Mum - for what is certain to be the only time in the child's life - can enjoy the luxury of its undivided attention. The womb makes the perfect classroom. The pupil has no window to peer from, no chair to fall off, no tamagotchi with which to fiddle. It has to learn. In its present form the Fetal Phone is only suitable for one-to-one tuition, but any government committed to new technology will see how easily it could be modified. A single length of tubing - if it were sufficiently long - could incorporate 30 or more loudspeakers; this would enable the teacher - if she were to shout loudly enough - to teach a whole class. Pregnant mums - who are quite used to doing as they are told - would be encouraged to bring their bulges to the nearest nursery school or creche. It goes without saying that attendance would be voluntary - but, in the case of single mothers, their entitlement to benefits would be dependent upon it.

The new national curriculum could easily embrace these crucial pre-natal months (Key Stage Minus 1). It would naturally include a thorough drilling in the multiplication tables and that useful list of words highlighted in the national literacy strategy. And, to ensure that our future citizens are ready for life in Cool Britannia, they should listen, not to Welsh folk songs, but to endless repetitions of D:Ream's "Things Can Only Get Better". .

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