'Boredom has a benefit' says Syal

30th January 2004 at 00:00
An award-winning comedian has attacked over-ambitious parents and an exam-focused school system for stifling the creativity of today's children.

Meera Syal, the writer and actor best known for her roles in television comedies Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 42, believes that there is likely to be a dearth of creative talent when current pupils reach adulthood.

"We're in danger of producing little automatons who will come out of school with straight As, but will have no ability to generate any creative thought," she said. "Are we just going to turn out a generation of executives, rather than creatives?"

Ms Syal has said that pupils, such as her 11-year-old daughter, no longer have the time to nurture their creative instincts.

She said: "Pupils and teachers are under an inordinate amount of pressure, and no one seems able to break the deadlock. And it's not just schools.

It's also monstrous middle-class parents.

"Children don't have time just to be. There is nothing like free time and a bit of boredom to make you creative. For some, that creativity is setting fire to something. For others, it might be writing a book."

Ms Syal, 40, who has written two novels, says that she benefited from large periods of inactivity in her youth.

"I was of the generation that was sat in front of the telly. That box was my window to the world. Television is a fantastic educator," she said.

Ms Syal was speaking to The TES during a one-day conference, hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts at its London headquarters. An audience of academics and media professionals was invited to debate the importance of media literacy in the 21st century.

Ms Syal was joined by Stephen Woolley, producer of The Crying Game and The End of the Affair, and Bethan Marshall, lecturer in education at King's College, London, to discuss the role of the media in education. All insisted that the media enhanced, rather than stifled literacy.

And Peter Bazalgette, chair of Endemol UK, the TV company behind Big Brother and Fame Academy, attacked education purists who brand media studies a "Mickey Mouse" subject.

He said: "Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector, once called media studies vacuous. But he used to teach English, which only came in as a school subject in 1900. Classicists back then would have called that vacuous."

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