Parents forum;School Management

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Pity the poor parent. No sooner have I finished telling my son that he must spend less time on his computer and more time engaging with real life than he hears tell of proposals for the National Grid for Learning. "See," he says triumphantly, "computers are educational."

Leaving aside the fact that's not how I'd define subjecting everything that's alien to a slow, lingering z..a..a..p, his remark obliges me to wonder if he could be right. Has technology finally delivered the goods, allowing us to wipe out the resources' deficit in deprived areas and introducing real quality control to teaching (albeit by the back door)?

It's a tempting thought but, as my mother used to say, "speak as you find". We are a pretty "wired-up" household, as it happens. Indeed, should my husband ever decide to sue me for divorce, he'll no doubt cite Mac, Apple as the co-respondent in the case. Which leads me to my first doubt, however Luddite it may sound.

Not so long ago, the switch went on my beloved Mac. Being something so simple and mechanical, a replacement was, of course, unobtainable - for two whole days. I emphasise the "whole" to try to help you understand how immeasurably slowly those 48 hours dripped by for me. Quite simply, I was bereaved. My brain was in that machine and I couldn't access it. I couldn't function on any level. "Pathetic," pronounced a friend who visited during those darkest of hours and, of course, he was right but is it possible to have technology without at least some level of dependency? Isn't that precisely why the use of calculators in schools is being abandoned in favour of ye-olde-times tables?

So maybe the technology's OK, so long as we ensure it remains our servant rather than our master. The Internet as giant global library rather than educator extraordinaire: interactive learning as opposed to dull book-page turning. No need to persuade me on that front. I've already bought into the dream, one of thousands of parents who invested in CD-Roms in the hope that all this interactive stuff would turn their children on to education. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out the way I'd hoped.

Maybe it's just that my children and their friends have an in-built resistance to learning, from whatever source it comes, or maybe it's just that educational packages have a way to go before they can match the excitement of the video-type games.

Whatever the reason, the learning packages always looked to them like a sad oldie's attempt to convince them that what they saw as "work" was actually "fun". I was reminded of trendy ministers in the Sixties with their jeans, their dog collars and their discos. These kids are so computer-literate that what looks to me and, I suspect, Tony Blair and his chums, exciting and futuristic, appears to them as merely commonplace and ordinary.

So am I agin the whole idea? I am not, but before all these financial eggs are loaded into one basket, I would like the answers to a couple of questions. How much research has there been, for example, into the impact of different learning stimuli? How much time and money is to be devoted to ensuring that teachers both understand and share the aims and objectives of the new technology?

The more powerful the weapon, the more damage it's likely to do if it goes off half-cocked. Lastly, if successful learning is about successfully motivating the child to learn (and I believe it is), how much research has gone into assessing what is likely to be the most powerful motivator in the classroom? In my day, a tape recorder was about the most exciting innovation we ever encountered, but we didn't come home and tell our parents about it. We talked about the teacher who said such-and-such or made us laugh. My kids are no different.

"The art of teaching," as I heard someone on the radio say the other day, "is the art of faking an orgasm".

I couldn't put it better myself and I don't think computers are that interactive - yet. So my last question: how much consideration has been given to assessing the impact of devoting all that money to better teacher training and support?

Esther Read

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