Stuck in yesterday's world

14th September 2012 at 01:00

Science has been in the news a lot recently. There was that spectacular celebration of scientific advancement at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, in which Stephen Hawking instructed us to "be curious". He also reminded us to "look up at the stars and not down at your feet", which was thoughtful advice considering that many of the competitors don't have any.

The rest of the ceremony was hugely awe-inspiring. Paraded in front of us were some of Britain's greatest scientific developments, including a gigantic reproduction of Newton's apple and the Higgs boson designed by someone with ombrophobia (look it up - I had to).

This summer also witnessed the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Unsurprisingly, his death affected many people. He was an iconic figure for the Tomorrow's World generation; a superhero from a time when we believed that science, not money, could conquer all. How naive that now seems.

Every week we would congregate in front of the telly while someone who looked like a physics teacher from the local comp promised that "in five years' time" this week's star turn - a domestic robot, a garden made of plastic or self-stirring tea - would appear in everyone's homes. Just occasionally they'd get it right. But the one they got wrong was the one about computers in schools. Way back in 1969 (you can still watch this in the archive), in the same year Armstrong landed on the moon, pupils in a UK school were seen using Nellie, an early computer, a hulking great object that looked like a cross between a 1950s New York telephone exchange and a naval frigate.

Now, 43 years later, we're still waiting for computers to catch on in my school. Of course we do have a few machines, but access to these is limited and priority is given to people who teach business or ICT, or go cycling with the boss. Despite half a century of technological innovation, my department's ICT profile remains on a par with a Bronze Age hill fort. We still don't have enough functioning laptops for staff, and our poor students have been muddling through without access to computers for the past two years.

The problem is that no one will admit there's a problem. Raise the issue of there being no laptops in English and someone in the senior leadership team will helpfully point you in the direction of the library seminar room, where there's a trolley-full of abandoned machines. Over the years these have been ritually abused, their keys scrambled and mutilated by lads who make Sid from Toy Story seem like an international relief worker.

Nor are our staff machines any better. The few laptops we have are hand-me-downs from retired teachers and are either made from mahogany or come with crocheted projector leads. And they take aeons to log on. Broadly speaking, if you want to take your register on Friday morning, you need to start typing in your password during Inspector George Gently on Sunday night.

However, now that our English controlled assessment grades are hanging around our knees, I suspect new computers will be an immediate priority since the only way our weaker kids can pull off a C is by using laptops to redraft their work. And then maybe our SLT will realise that the greatest enemy of attainment is not technology but the illusion of technology, and that quad blogging isn't something you do in a gym.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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