Water, water...and not a drop in sight;Opinion

29th October 1999 at 01:00
I'VE SEEN me grabbing a surreptitious swig from a bottle between classes!

Before you start ruminating on why I'm still in a job, we're not talking aqua vitae here, just aqua, and I'm not the only one in need of a drink of water.

Are you tired of scanning the weary faces in front of you? Or of seeing in these young complexions the exhaustion which is multiplied manifold in your own. Like chewing gum on the pavements, motivation problems are here to stay.

Most of us agree that classrooms should be places of breathless excitement.

Pupils should be rapt with a splendid sense of their good fortunes as, more than ever before, learning equates with fun. And kids are still imbued with hopes that their childhood fantasies may one day be fulfilled. Unlike their teachers whose fatigued expressions tell the story of their unrequited dreams.

Vigour is often absent from the classroom.

I have to preface my explanation with a warning. Not because anyone is going to run to palpitations with the sheer exoticism of my conclusion but rather because you have heard it all before. Yet hear me out. Many of our pupils are suffering from dehydration. This is not a new state of the art syndrome but a well documented condition initiated by an insufficient intake of water.

Ask your class. Find out how many of them have a drink in the morning before they leave for school. You will be amazed to hear that a significant proportion will not have had any liquid since the night before. In fact, few pupils partake of the recommended daily intake of eight glasses of water.

What next? Pouring out drinks of water for our pupils? I hear the careworn cries of teachers who already feel that they're doing far too much in the face-wiping stakes.

But many workplaces have installed portable drinking machines which offer a constant supply of cold water. Recently I have seen these machines in places as diverse as my bank and hairdressing salon, and I must commend them for making these drinks available for both staff and customers.

Not in schools, though. Teachers and pupils are cooped up in stuffy environments where, for the most part, drinking is a strictly forbidden activity. Yet we are desperately looking for the key to unlock better performances from our pupils. A refrigerated watering station, offering unlimited access in every classroom, would effect much more radical change than yet another dose of spelling.

Scientific proof? Check the health journals on the Internet and you will be downloading all day. If that's not enough data for you, set yourself up as a guinea-pig. Try drinking at least eight glasses of water a day and you will notice changes. Scientifically validated research shows that brain function is enhanced when your neurones are thoroughly watered.

Look at modern schools and classrooms and you will see a swathe of developing technology. Computers. Video- conferencing facilities. Power Point presentations. Digital cameras. I am simply saying that, in addition to all the other paraphernalia, drinking water should be "on tap" in the classroom.

I am increasingly convinced of the need for action on this problem. Not least in the equation is Scotland's ongoing and very public health problem. Children are devouring more and more salt in convenience foods and their bodies require more and more water just to maintain a balance.

However, I recognise that there is no political will to organise such a simple operation. And yet it would be in line with Government thinking on the private finance initiative and philosophies of that ilk. For heaven's sake, the mineral water companies could sponsor the whole project!

Finally, to the colleague who naively said, "But the pupils don't look thirsty", I say that expensive watches and time bombs make similar ticking sounds.

Objections? I'd love to hear them.

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