Warning: use heart to communicate

4th April 2008 at 01:00

Recently, I attended a local authority meeting on our "Anywhere, Anytime Learning" programme, which prioritises wireless facilities in our schools to promote increased use of ICT across the curriculum. The agenda was on perceived "risks", from the education point of view.

There was some initial discussion on the obvious concerns over inappropriate use of equipment, such as teachers being secretly recorded, or filtering of inappropriate internet content. However, pleasingly, the talk soon turned to the huge, positive advantages provided by the flexibility of truly interactive learning. There was agreement that, as pupils already accessed most of their information for life via IT - be it the net, social networks or new generation mobiles - it was imperative that schools embrace this same technology and present it as a positive and disciplined option for learning and teaching.

Of course, we must guard against the temptation to equate IT as good and older methods as outdated. The way forward is not "death by PowerPoint", or online learning as a replacement for human interaction. Like all innovations, the trick is in making it serve our purposes while not losing sight of the important and crucial skills involved in learning and teaching. Interactive methods bring their own concerns, but then we don't ban pupils' use of tools in craft and design, or chemicals in the science department, because of inherent dangers. Rather, we use the opportunity to encourage responsibility and awareness in our students.

In the same week, I was shocked at the sudden and early loss of my parish priest and friend, Monsignor Davie Gemmell. He was officially administrator at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh but, as the hundreds of tributes to him made abundantly clear, what was really grand about Davie was not his title, but his humanity - revealed in his dealings with those of all faiths and none. He showed humour, compassion, concern and genuine interest in all those he worked with, helped or served.

He touched the hearts of all he met and will be sadly missed. However, in the space he leaves, there is, as always, a relevant message. When it comes to communication, the heart of the communicator will always be more important than the means of communication. As teachers, that gives us a helpful guide - anytime, anywhere.

Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston.

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