Tweenies show the way to technology

11th August 2000 at 01:00
IT'S been worrying me lately. That old question, "Who teaches the teacher?"

When you're at school it doesn't really dawn on you that the reason the teacher knows more than you do is because he or she might be keeping a page ahead of you in the textbook. You do realise that some teachers are better than others, because they can actually control the class, either with a rod of iron, a quirky personality or perhaps a wonderful teaching technique. But the one thing you did give them was the benefit of the doubt. You presumed that they knew their stuff. Whether they put it over was another matter.

We all know the teachers who made a difference. My woodwork teacher got our undivided attention by throwing chisels or any other handy piece of hardware at us. My history teacher always had his leather "Lochgelly" strap concealed under the shoulder of his gown ready to lash out, and our English teacher was just brilliant, funny and entertaining.

The point is that they all knew their subject. They had studied it, and it was time to pass that on in the best way they could.

Now, at the dawning of the 21st century, the world has gone visual with the Internet, emailing, scanning, voice recognition, graphics, widescreen digital TV, satellite links, DVD. The sad fact is that our young people are mastering this technology faster than their teachers, through games and exploring on their own with all the readily available hardware.

The digital era is now upon us and technology is going to take over our lives, whether we like it or not. That box in the corner will become a digital receiver with a hard drive, which will record programmes whether you ask it to or not, just because you usually like to watch that type of programme. It will also be a computer, video phone and your Internet link. Children will take it all in their stride.

But where does this leave our educators? Those who should be able to teach our children this skill to get a head start in life? Unfortunately the ICT revolution is once again leaving this most important element behind.

Our teachers are locked into a tangle of bureaucracy and are, very early in their careers, forced onto the treadmill that is our education system today. There is no time to learn about the technoogy in depth, so that they can, in turn, teach our children to have a solid grounding in ICT right from the start. They can't get that one page ahead.

Education in ICT will become something you learn individually, or from older siblings, and it will develop as a skill outside our legitimate education system, rather than be used hand-in-hand with it to enhance children's learning.

The situation we have at the moment is all too familiar. The information technology experts and this country's programme-makers are developing their fields so quickly, making massive strides and leaving the educationists having to play catch-up. When will we learn that our teachers are the front line and must be armed with the skills in order for them to perform?

A forum must be set up to allow a flow of information and ideas between the ICT experts, the programme-makers and the teachers so that we make the most of this revolution. Technology and communication is the way forward and we must all be on board to give future generations a solid basis of understanding taught by our trained teachers and aided by our programme-makers, using the techniques that, we all know, keep young people interested.

My company, Tell-Tale Productions, has created The Tweenies for the BBC, after years of consultation with the people who try to educate and develop the curriculum for our three to five-year-olds. It takes the elements of "soap opera" and "sitcom" and blends them with pre-school curriculum.

The Tweenies have taken the UK, and increasingly, the world by storm, capturing the hearts of pre-schoolers, but it also informs and explores the physical, social and educational issues young children face every day.

It is a true example of "edutainment" which neither devalues the educational content nor decreases the watchability factor. This can be achieved for all age groups through consultation with our educators. All that is required is a desire for teachers to be freed from the shackles of paperwork and given a day off a week to learn the technology, together with a forum to discuss and explore the possibilities of ICT and programming.

Our young people's future and education depends on it.

Iain Lauchlan is a director of Tell-Tale Productions.

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