Dive in, the water's lovely

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Look, no bytes. There's no need to fear dipping your toes into technology

I am obliged to write this piece on a Pembrokeshire beach contending with an Atlantic breeze which at times seems nippy enough to freeze the sun cream in the tube. Yes, it's another typical August afternoon. Three of my companions are thumbing through Thomson brochures and making a solemn pact to spend next year in sunnier climes.

The other two, keen to prove that they are made of sterner stuff than the rest of us, are besporting themselves ostentatiously in the sea. And I sit alone, wrestling with a problem that, ever since that fateful day when Kenneth Baker dumped the first Acorns in schools, has baffled education ministers, Ofsted inspectors, ICT advisers, the computer industry and smart alecs at the British Educational Communications and Tech-nology Agency. The unanswered question: why do so many teachers - surveys indicate probably 70 per cent of the profession - refuse to use new technology in their classrooms?

I have a theory. I admit that it hasn't been based on extensive research, and so I have no pie-charts, learned citations, impressive footnotes or indecipherable graphs to substantiate my case. Instead, I have had to rely on the meagre data available to me on the beach.

For example, the gentleman with the purple Bermuda shorts and goose pimples is a science teacher who says that he will happily embrace information and communications technology - but only when his skinflint local authority offers him an extensive programme of accredited in-service training. He anticipates that this will happen at about the same time as pigs in his area are accepted into the Red Arrows training corps.

His companion, who claims to be suffering from the symptoms of incipient frostbite, terminated her thwarted affair with new technology when her classroom computer was stolen for the fourth time.

I don't even dare to ask the third member of the party why he doesn't use computers as I know it will trigger the usual monologue. He will outline, in more detail than is strictly necessary, how assessment, modular A-levels, bigger classes, etcetera, have already lumbered him with so much extra work that he jolly well doesn't have the jolly time to waste messing around with a jolly mouse. Although "jolly" isn't the word he would use.

I know that I should urge these holidaying teachers to find the time - if only for the sake of their pupils - or remind them that most computer-literateteachers didn't rely on formal in-service training courses to acquire their skills but had the gumption to jolly well teach themselves. But I don't nag. The couple cavorting in the briny havedemonstrated the folly of that.

For the past ten minutes, they have been shrieking at us. You know the sort of thing: "Come and join us! The water's lovely! It's great once you get under! Honestly!" We cringe. We pretend we can't hear them. We take the greatest possible exception to their tacit assumption that it's only our lack of moral fibre that is keeping us on terra firma. Even if we'd previously toyed with the idea of taking a dip, we certainly wouldn't now, knowing full well that the first toe in the water would be greeted with patronising applause and yelps of "Whoopee! Well done! It's not so bad after all, is it!" It would come as a shock to the swimmers to discover that their earnest endeavours to lure us into the sea are totally counter-productive. But the more they shout, the more resolutely we pull our fleeces about us.

Technophiles should take note: teachers, in the main, don't like being cajoled and they hate condescension. If their IQ is in double figures they don't need to be told - to quote one of the BBC's more fatuous campaigns - that "computers don't bite". They won't be more likely to grab for the nearest mouse just because Carol Vorderman appears on television, treats them to her biggest smile and talks v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y without using any nasty big words that we find so scary.

If teachers are to use ICT, they need not more encouragement but more equipment, more time and more training. Even then, one of my companions would be very unlikely to take up the opportunity. He is convinced that the case being made for ICT in education amounts to nothing more than a heady cocktail of wishful thinking and copywriter's hype. In fact, he thinks that the fortune that is being spent on equipping schools with new technology will ultimately prove to be a jolly big mistake.

I feel equally strongly about 10-day, half-board, winter breaks in Tenerife - the subject under discussion on our windswept corner of the beach in Pembrokeshire. I have made several attempts to join the debate. I feel I could make a valuable contribution, having once received a particularly unpleasant postcard of Santa Cruz harbour. What's more, my plumber's brother-in-law owns a time-share there which has given him nothing but grief.

But will they listen to me? They studiously ignore everything I say. They insist that since I have never been to Tenerife, my opinions, however strongly held, are of no consequence.

They are right, of course. But if I am ignored when I pontificate on holiday destinations simply on the grounds that I don't know what they are talking about, there is no reason why those who rubbish the use of computers in education should expect to be treated any differently. There are criticisms that can and should be made, but the only teachers entitled to make them are those who have somehow managed to find the time and the patience to become computer-literate. So, take the plunge! It's lovely once you're in! Honestly!


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