Hang Ups

11th November 1994 at 00:00
Everybody knows about the university don who hit upon the idea of tape recording his lectures. Instead of staying for his allotted hour, he simply switched on the machine, and made a quick exit. After doing this successfully for a term, he decided to show-off his wheeze to a colleague. But they found the lecture theatre deserted. The students had gone, leaving their cassette machines to record his machine.

The story is obviously apocryphal but when I was at university we repeated it as if it were the gospel truth. It seemed to illustrate perfectly the patent absurdity of still having to attend lectures when technology had rendered them unnecessary. Why should students have to drag themselves from their (or other people's) beds to listen to a lecture when a recording or a printed transcript could have been delivered by the Royal Mail?

Lecturers in the Department of Information Engineering at Southampton University have got the right idea. If their undergraduate students have a modem and a PC, they need never leave their flats again. They simply download their lectures from the Internet. It's as convenient as having pizzas brought to the door. The Internet also provides them with an ideal way of delivering their essays or their excuses for not having quite got round to doing them.

If it's good enough for universities, there's no reason why schools shouldn't follow suit. When everybody is linked by that much-hyped electronic superhighway, neither teachers nor whining pupils need ever again creep like snails unwillingly to school. Indeed, in this rosy future, there will be no need for schools. They are, after all, a ludicrous extravagance, occupying prime sites and costing a fortune to maintain. IT is so much cheaper.

By the turn of the century, the technologies will have converged telephone, television, VCR, stereo, photograph album and computer will all be crammed into a single black, plastic Pandora's Box.

VDUs will have been replaced by liquid crystal display flat screens filling whole walls; video conferencing will mean everybody can be everywhere. The child, like David Dimbleby on election night, will be able to summon up experts, pundits, film, and facts from the remotest corners of the world.

The phenomenal growth in telecottaging is going to accelerate the process. When Mummy andor Daddy are home-alone, how ludicrous it would be to pack the kids a lunchbox and send them off for a day of playground bullying and lessons in a decrepit building. Much better to cuddle up with a mouse, and a selection of improving CD-Roms. It's the ultimate in parental choice: parents, simply by selecting software or channels, can control the child's education as easily as the central heating.

In the old days, schools played a crucial role in instilling a hidden curriculum of punctuality, the work ethic and slavish obedience vital attributes for their pupils' future lives on a factory line. Now that there are so few jobs to do, children need to be prepared for lives of mindless leisure. And what better way of doing so than plonking them in front of a monitor. Super Mario, the Internet's World Wide Web, the latest CD-Rom, re-runs of Hawaii 5-O it doesn't matter what, provided it keeps them off the streets and from frightening the horses.

In fact, with so much edutainment to keep children occupied, teachers are going to be rendered surplus to requirements. In this brave new world, they'll all be enjoying early retirement and on the look-out for some self-improving course that will help them while away their lazy days. Information Engineering at Southampton looks very tempting.

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