Hang ups

10th October 1997 at 01:00
As if obeying some immutable law of physics, the best computers in a secondary + school will always move inexorably upwards. So the special needs pupils in Year+ 7, who could benefit most from the latest multimedia wizardry, have to make do+ with a clapped-out Acorn, while the headteacher sits behind a gleaming Pentium+ - which is rarely called upon to do much more than run the + screen-saver.Similarly, if the sixth-form study area isn't already equipped + with a network of expensive machines, the school's five-year plan will contain + a solemn pledge - bold and underlined - that one will soon be installed. There + is some justification for this. Sixth-formers should acquire IT skills - they + are going to need them. And, from the management 's point of view, snapshots of+ young women and men peering into computer screens always look good in a glossy+ prospectus. Students will naturally appreciate having easy access to computers+ - especially those who have already decided that the best way to prepare for + public exams is to settle into a routine of procrastination, panic and prayer. + Don't knock it. Many of us have achieved respectable A-level grades and even + gone on to gain degrees by adopting precisely this approach.Students soon find + that computers offer a unique opportunity to keep really busy without really + working. For example, an essay that could be completed in a matter of hours can+ often take days on a word processor as they succumb to the urge to try out + every one of the available fonts and to experiment with the impossible + complexities of the most sophisticated desktop publishing package.They will not+ cease from mental strife until they have tweaked everything that can be + tweaked in the Windows 95 system folder: they will customise the background and+ choose a screen saver that is even flashier than the headteacher's. They will + while away free lessons on a hop-skip-and-jump tour of their favourite CD-Roms + or dive into that mass grave of good intentions, the World Wide Web.There is, + of course, a role for computers in the sixth form but only if students have + already mastered a subject which seldom features on the school timetable: they + need to learn how to learn. And the sooner they do so the better. They must + look forward to a future in which a commitment to "lifetime learning" - what an+ ominous phrase that is for us in the panic-and-prayer brigade - will be + essential if they want to stay in work or make sense of the seismic changes + that newer and stranger technologies are certain to bring.Ironically, the best + way to prepare for this brave new world isn't to spend their free time glued to+ the keyboard, but to curl up with one of the many good books which explain + the tried and tested techniques of independent learning.They could do worse + than start with Strategies for Studying by Mike Coles and Chas White. It's + packed with down-to-earth advice, questionnaires, charts, fact sheets and an + intriguing assortment of newspaper articles which cover a range of topics from + coping with parents who nag to the mysteries of how the brain works. For + instance, students will discover that there is evidence which suggests that + during the process of dreaming, data is transferred from the hippocampus, the + area of the brain that's home to short-term memory, to the cortex where it + remains permanently stored. So, the more they sleep, the more they'll dream, + the more they'll remember. Indeed, school managers might seriously consider + shifting those expensive computers into the lower school and equipping the + sixth-form area with some sensible bunk beds. Strategies for Studying + (#163;24.95) Carel Press, 4 Hewson Street, Carlisle CA2 5AU (01228 + 38928)arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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