Hang ups

7th November 1997 at 00:00
George Watson's College, one of Scotland's most prestigious public schools, has announced that the mobile telephone is now on the list of items up with which the staff will not put. Any child who tries to phone his bookie or broker in lessons will find his conversation summarily terminated and his mobile nicked.

It comes as no surprise to me. My son fell victim to this same mindless hostility when I encouraged him to take a mobile on his Duke of Edinburgh hiking expedition. It seemed only reasonable that if the lad was to fend for himself in the uncharted wilds of the New Forest, he should at least have the wherewithal to phone home.

His mother and I had vague ideas of spending the weekend poised at the telephone forearmed with my battered copy of Scouting for Boys and her River Cafe Cook Book. Thus, if he were to contact us from his bivouac, we could help him on anything from starting a fire by rubbing sticks together to preparing a billy-can of nourishing tetraone cucinato nella pancetta.

But Akela - or whatever the D of E supremo calls himself - would have none of it. If my son hadn't been sufficiently alert to spot a fortuitous chip van, he might well have ended the weekend on the Six o'Clock News, gazing soulfully at the camera as he scuppered Akela's promising career with a stony "J'accuse".

Not that I blame the man. His ban on the mobile is simply typical of the teaching profession's apparent fear of all things new. Perhaps their aversion is coded in the same gene that predetermined that they should become teachers in the first place; perhaps it's the symptom of an undiagnosed reaction to chalk dust.

"Tut tut," they feel compelled to say when hem lines go up or down, when they see a Mohican haircut or a Tamagotchi or a stick-on tattoo.

But there is one other explanation for this eccentricity. Teachers know that change - even the slightest deviation from the norm - can cause havoc.

For example, it takes only the entry of a single wasp into an otherwise sleepy classroom to create pandemonium. Every female suddenly forgets about Girl Power and becomes a screaming damsel in distress; every lad becomes Henry V urging his dear friends to follow their spirit upon the charge. But even as the assassination squads move in on the interloper, the militant wing of the Royal Society for the Protection of Stingy Things mounts a counter attack. And chaos will reign until either the wasp or the bell goes. If a little vespa vulgaris can cause that much trouble, teachers, quite reasonably, conclude that a PC could precipitate Armageddon.

Unless, that is, they have spent long enough with a computer to discover for themselves that it doesn't sting. It has long been argued that if teachers were given their own computers to use at home, they would soon start using them in the classroom.

The Department for Education and Employment put the theory to the test by giving more than 1,000 teachers multimedia portables for their personal use. And, hey presto, according to a report published by the National Council for Educational Technology last month, 98 per cent of the teachers ended up using the computers in lessons. "This model for training teachers . . . has proved to be successful beyond our wildest dreams," says the project's co-ordinator. "We hope that decision makers in schools will take careful note of the findings when deciding how best to train their staff."

Sadly the report fails to mention the crucial role a notebook computer can play in maintaining classroom discipline. If a stray wasp chances on to the keyboard, the lid can be slammed down sharply. This does, however, leave rather a mess - and the problem of pacifying the Royal Society for the Protection of Stingy Things.

More information from NCET on 01203 416994

The National Geographic Magazine on CD-Rom that I mentioned on October 24 can be obtained from Mindscape at 01444 248996


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