Hang ups

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Kevin Booth's biography and mine are uncannily similar. Until a few years ago, both of us were secondary school teachers. But we gave up our day jobs so that we could devote ourselves full time to pursuing our particular hobbies. We both went into the futurology business: Mr Booth forecasts the results of horse races; and I write this column in which I predict the effects that IT will have on education. It's at this point that our stories diverge. Mr Booth's success, according to The Sunday Times, has enabled him to take up residence in a 48-bedroom castle in the north of Scotland. I continue to live in Cloud-cuckoo-land.

My mistake, I suppose, has been to believe that, because new technology has the potential to revolutionise the learning process, everyone engaged in trying to make schools more effective would enthusiastically embrace it.

There have been times when I have been positively upbeat at the prospect. It's true that this is usually after I've read some euphoric press release from a software house. The day-dreamers who write Microsoft's promotional literature are particularly adept at evoking a sense of the wired wonderland that awaits us. Schools, I have assured my readers, will be transformed by CD-Roms, video-conferencing, integrated learning systems and the Aladdin's Cave of riches available on the World Wide Web.

But there have also been darker times when my crystal ball has afforded me images of a high-tech future almost too awful to describe in a journal that might be read by those of a nervous disposition. I have seen a fifth horseman of the apocalypse - and he was clutching a laptop.

Whatever my mood, my predictions have always been based on the assumption that IT - for better or worse - would have a seismic impact on school life. I was wrong. As many as 70 per cent of teachers never go near computers. IT in schools is "primitive and not improving", according to a report published by the Labour party before they came to power. Now that they are in government, they promise to put matters right, but it's difficult to see how they can do much to change the prevailing culture. The Conservatives spent Pounds 1 billion trying to do so and failed abysmally. While the rest of society is turned inside-out by new technology, the majority of schools will continue to regard it as a passing fad.

Parents won't, of course. The phenomenal growth of home computing is altering their perception of education. The business of teaching is no longer seen as the exclusive preserve of teachers. The Internet and the growing range of impressive software provide the necessary resources to make learning at home suddenly seem a viable proposition. And the more time politicians spend pointing out how badly schools are underachieving, the more convinced parents will be that their children deserve something better.

At least 10,000 children are already being educated successfully at home - and legions more will follow their lead. That's not my prophecy but David Har-greaves', the outspoken professor of education at Cambridge University, who, I suspect, is far better at this predicting lark than I'll ever be (see The TES, May 30). He foresees a shift from the traditional educational system to "polymorphic educational provision - an infinite variety of multiple forms of teaching and learning". It will be "the most radical educational change since the introduction of mass schooling in the last quarter of the 19th century".

Professor Hargreaves recognises that "the process of change . . . will be very painful for most of the existing teaching profession". And I confidently predict that many of them will feel a compelling urge to turn their backs on education in order to spend more time pursuing their particular hobbies. I only hope there are enough castles in Scotland to accommodate them all.


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