Hang Ups

7th March 1997 at 00:00
There is only one week to go before Red Nose Day, when teachers throughout the UK will gird their loins, stiffen their sinews, put their best feet forward, and make complete and utter prats of themselves. Senior management teams will dance the can-can, the hirsute will subject themselves to their biennial sponsored shave, keen disciplinarians will allow themselves to be dunked in gunge, and even the most battle-weary will reluctantly clip on their obligatory red noses as they deliver their customary grumble that it was never like this in the old days.

That's true, of course. The revered pedagogues of yesteryear - Socrates, Thomas Arnold, Piaget, Rhodes Boyson - didn't have to cope with a day of licensed mayhem. They didn't have to keep order while their classes - to quote Comic Relief's suggested activities for pupils - "have a bad hair day . . . splat somebody important . . . dress as an astronaut or Tiffany from EastEnders . . . talk backwards all day".

Is it worth the hassle? A quick peep at Comic Relief's bank statement answers that question. They have already raised more than Pounds 112 million and distributed it in aid to Africa and to charities in the UK. What's more, the whole enterprise teaches children that they needn't be defeatist about the state of the world: that with a concerted effort and a bit of imagination, they can do their bit to make it a better place. Children will be happy to part with their money, so teachers must create the opportunities for them to do so. Here, at last, is the ideal opportunity to make the most of the school's computers.

Since the early days of the home personal computer, software manufacturers have been churning out versions of all the popular casino games. Don a tux or a slinky dress, teach the children the meaning of faites vos jeux - and fleece them. As well as helping charity, children will learn an important lesson: the house always wins.

If you have scruples about under-age gambling, encourage children to bring computer games to school. You can charge them 10p for ten minutes' playing time, which is substantially less than they happily shell out every time they visit the amusement arcade in town. You needn't have any qualms about spending lesson time in this way. In the old days, it's true, researchers insisted that computer games led to aggression, fried the brain and generally hastened the apocalypse. But now there are just as many researchers who can "prove'' that sustained periods waggling a joystick can improve not only hand-eye co-ordination, but also concentration, self-esteem, problem-solving skills and basic literacy.

You won't have to rely on dubious research, if you choose instead to allow your classes to access the Internet - at a price, of course. Politicians, pundits and parents are unanimously agreed that schools should be preparing youngsters for the thrills and spills of life on the information superhighway. The Internet is certainly not a superhighway, but it is the only thing we have that remotely resembles one. So simply surfing the Net will be a valuable educational experience. It doesn't matter if they spend their time hunting for the Spice Girls Web site or brushing up on their Klingon; what's important is that they discover how easy it is to point 'n' click their way around the vast ocean of data at their disposal.

Teachers who remain hopelessly bewildered by anything to do with IT can also take advantage of Red Nose Day. Within every school there are legions of computer-literate pupils who would be only too happy to offer some much needed in-service training, with all fees to be paid to Comic Relief. Such a dramatic role reversal might embarrass some teachers - especially when they have to reveal the extent of their ignorance - but they shouldn't worry about that. This is, after all, the one day on which they are entitled to make complete and utter prats of themselves.


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