Make this corpse walk

13th February 2004 at 00:00
DOA (Education in the Electronic Culture). By John P Davies. Scarecrow education press, pound;20.95

Education secretary Charles Clarke was recently asked if, as a result of ICT, we should change the curriculum. "No!" he said, firmly. Well, Charles, you are probably too busy to read this book but if you did you might see you could be wrong.

The central idea is that there is a growing gap between the way schools teach and students learn, and between what schools teach and what student want to learn. Today's students have been shaped by electronic culture.

DOA, if you are not familiar with American police-speak, is Dead On Arrival. In this book, the corpse in the morgue is the current curriculum.

American writers, and this is an American book, seem to see the need for change with a greater urgency. Disaffected kids loom large in American schools; here they just refuse to attend.

The best part of the book is the historical survey of comparable shifts: the introduction of writing, then printing. John Davies believes there are clues here to what we should do. He claims there are losses, but there are also gains.

His perspective is not that of the over-enthusiastic futurologist - he is more the puzzled onlooker, contrasting his son's way of learning, and the quality of that learning, with his own. Among the most entertaining parts of the book are the quotes scattered throughout to warn futurologists. He is convinced he is right that IT is about more than embellishing current ways of working. He sees the need for radical change. He is enthusiastic about hypertext, word processing and the new forms of texts. He shows us the dangers of imagining that students are in the same place as their teachers.

They are, he says, in a radically different place. John Davies says the education system is the most stable institution created by the late Industrial Age and those inside it have an educenctric view of the world that shields them from changing it.

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