More power to the young

10th July 1998 at 01:00
It's only our Victorian notion of learning that stops our children benefiting fully from what technology can give them, write Jacqui Disney and Jane Mitra

All children will be independent learners, empowered and eager for the 21st century. They will ask questions no one has ever thought of simply because they need to know the answers. They will create their own interactive resources. They will demand the best hardware and software.

A vision of the future? It has already begun.

Yet, the story goes, too many children are underachieving and schools are under-performing. And teachers are just not up to the task. So what to do? The Government's solution seems to be: give the kids more. Make them work harder and, more importantly, make them work longer. But do we need more of the same or something different?

There is ceaseless talk about how the information and communication tech-nology revolution will change and empower the learning process. But isn't this vision for the next century underpinned by ethics from the Victorian age? We already have a highly prescriptive national curriculum and now we are in danger of getting an equally prescriptive homework policy, where teachers have to set so many hours of additional work - and parents have to make sure their children do it.

Traditionally, teachers who set homework often did it because they had to, or because there wasn't time to finish something in class. We should stop to ask what is the real value of this type of work and whether this is the best way forward.

If our children have to work harder to become employable and valuable, let us at least consider how to maximise the very different learning environments of school, home and communities. We should not just crack the whip.

More and more homes, as well as study support centres, have ICT equipment. We know children are not reluctant to take this on - even many of those previously switched off are enjoying this new learning opportunity.

How do teachers deal with a switched-on and excited 11-year-old asking questions about presenting video evidence in their multimedia history homework? And how do parents know this is an acceptable and valuable way to learn, other than that their child is obviously enjoying the process?

Does the developing homework strategy leave room for creativity, exploration, independence and free thinking? One thing is certain. More "school outside school" is not going to do it. Our present school-centred educationsystem is not adequate.

We need to think carefully about how to make the most of the opportunities available to pupils by valuing and encouraging learning outside of the classroom, and by recognising different kinds of learning experiences.

Some people may not really want empowerment for the young , who will ask us questions we don't know the answers to, questions that are difficult to manage. But whether we want to deal with it or not, by revving up the engine of the ICT revolution, we are empowering the children who will drive it.

Jacquie Disney and Jane Mitra both work for Parents Information Network. e-mail:

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