Rediscover the lost virtues of the real world

21st November 2003 at 00:00
I have got into the habit of keeping a folder of cuttings that catch my eye. My family calls it The Rant and Froth File. So what's in there at the moment?

A TES article extolling the virtues of radio to stimulate children's imagination and encourage concentration; a report in one of the weekend papers about research which revealed that in 500 secondary schools government spending on computer technology has had an "insignificant effect on children's performance". The Basic Skills Agency reports that half of children in some areas enter formal education with inadequate speaking and listening skills. And finally a piece of government research which lays the blame for poor communication skills squarely at the door of too much time spent in front of the television and the computer screen at home.

Why are we promoting even more time in front of the small screen at school? Because those nice people at Whitehall gave everybody e-learning credits to spend. I am not a born-again Luddite. I know that our children need to be computer literate to succeed in an increasingly technology-driven society.

And there are plenty of providers out there. At a recent education show the majority of the exhibitors were pushing hardware, software and assorted gadgets which would allow the average teacher to bend the space-time continuum. Exhibitors proudly declaimed themselves leaders in the provision of "the virtual learning environment".

What happened to the real learning environment? Has it been quietly downgraded? What happened to doing the right things rather than just doing things right? The things that make children want to learn more, and teachers want to teach and go on teaching. The hands-on, creative, do-it-for-yourself, "guess what we did at school today?" kind of learning?

Judging by the reactions of many visitors to the exhibition when they did find stands with high-quality hands-on resources meant for touching, investigating and talking about, I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

High-quality learning experiences don't always have to be hi-tech.

Helen Wainwright is a freelance education consultant and former key stage 1 co-ordinator

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