Technology on overdrive

17th February 2012 at 00:00

I'm often amused by "experts" who readily offer advice to schools without, apparently, having much knowledge of how the daily wheels go round.

I've just read some articles about ICT in primary education. The first talks about the importance of the electronic whiteboard in the nursery class. I can't think of anything more dismal than having tiny children spending a chunk of their day gawping at a screen instead of painting, constructing, socialising and, most important of all, listening to stories read by an imaginative teacher. An NQT recently told me her college advised the use of an electronic board for storytelling because it could show the children lots of scenes from the book and animate them. What happened to imagination?

Another article talks about Luddite teachers, unwilling to keep abreast of new technology and rapidly falling behind the skills of the average techie seven-year-old pupil. Schools, the writer says, should be incorporating the children's personal bits of electronic wizardry - which they spend much leisure time getting to know intimately - into their classroom learning. Bring in your touchscreen phones! Bring in your iPads, mp3 players that store a million tunes, your tablets that hold the works of Shakespeare on a chip the size of an aspirin! After all, at the touch of a finger the entire content of the web is available on the latest phones, as well as the location of the nearest kebab shop.

Now, I would hate to be thought of as somebody who is totally against the technological revolution, because I'm not. Back in the 1980s, my school was one of the first in the country to have computers in every classroom. We used them wisely and we kept a reasonable but sensible pace as the technology evolved. But to say to teachers that if their school can't afford the latest equipment, they should allow iPhones and iPads into their classrooms so that children can access information seems to me foolhardy and dangerous.

Imagine the lesson and look at the downside. Children wouldn't use their phones when instructed - these pieces of wizardry are compulsive - and they would fiddle with them under the table. They wouldn't necessarily access what you wanted them to, either. A colleague told me one of his Year 5s was recently using a phone to show his mates a website where a gentleman was doing some very naughty things with a turkey.

Then, of course, there's the security problem. I remember, years ago, a parent making an incredible fuss because her child's Beyblade (a toy you set spinning on the floor) disappeared from the teacher's desk after she had confiscated it. The teacher took it, so the school should pay for it, the parent said. Just imagine the fuss if an iPhone disappeared. It's bad enough if somebody nicks a sherbet lemon.

Then there's the bullying aspect. I am appalled by some of the things children get up to with mobiles. Cyberbullying can be horrific and I remember a serious incident at our school that took a great deal of time and effort to resolve. Yet children still tried to smuggle their mobiles into school if they could.

There is so much glibness from the "experts" about personalised learning and technology. They need to spend more time talking to teachers who are dealing, day in and day out, with the issues it brings.

Mike Kent is a retired primary head. Email

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