Wired in a wireless world

28th January 2005 at 00:00
In her second visit to 2025, Stephanie Northern accompanies Harry to his new job as a multimedia art teacher , and his son Tariq, 11, to his lectures in information analysis. It's a world without tigers, an England without royals and a year since the internet crashed

Harry groaned. It was Tuesday morning, his worst day of the week. He regretted volunteering for breakfast duty, but as a new teacher in a high-profile secondary art department he'd had to show willing. The smell of organic soya muffins made him feel sick; he longed for the bacon butties of his youth. He stuffed his two I-desks into his rucksack. The one the kids could access was seriously in need of purging, but Harry just hadn't had time.

Checking his personal one, he groaned again. He'd forgotten the meeting with the Electronic Arts professor. As the computer gaming company sponsored his department and paid half his salary, there was no escape, but Harry just did not get on with the woman. He had got off on the wrong foot with his joke about how Electronic Arts' slogan, Challenge Everything, applied to his students. But then, he reasoned, he wasn't really being critical. They were supposed to educating kids to be creative and subversive - up to a point.

After that meeting he was due for his termly pupil assessment. Another groan. The kids liked him, he was sure. After all, they had helped appoint him. But that didn't stop the encounter being excruciating. Still, the last time the pupils put him under the microscope had helped him to realise that they did want his input into their dissertations and respected his own work as a multi-media artist. Sometimes the older ones seemed so confident about their work and direction in life - those bloody personal counsellors - that he wondered what he was doing there.

Then lunch. Luckily the canteen was open all day so it didn't really matter if meetings overran.

And then, at last, some teaching. He enjoyed his time with the 12-year-olds. They were doing "team art", working on what Leonardo da Vinci might have invented if he had lived in the 21st century. Harry's assistant videoed the sessions while he guided the talk, using an interactive archive of the artist's work put together by an enthusiastic grandparent.

Sometime he would analyse the videos to add his input to each student's profile, diagnosing their strengths and talking constructively about weaknesses, and carrying on the long-term planning of their academic life.

Some pupils were easy, with clear gifts and ambitions to match. Others, the majority, presented that muddle of talent and indecision that reminded him of his school days.

He often felt that all the analysis only made them anxious. They were only teenagers, for God's sake. He had discussed this with the school's psychologist, who agreed, but reminded Harry that nothing was set in stone.

Flexibility is freedom, he said, quoting the government's latest mantra.

Um, thought Harry, flexibility is not freedom for teachers. We spend our time trying to satisfy kids who one day want to enrol as apprentices at the local lifelong learning college, and the next want to go on a taster course in philosophy at the Kent branch of Harvard university because they fancy the undergraduate who teaches it.

Harry dragged his mind back to today. What else was on his plate? Only fixing the talking teachers' board in reception. Intended to tell parents, pupils and Mr and Ms Public about the hundreds of courses available 48 weeks of the year, 12 hours a day, it was blowing them a digital raspberry at the moment. Harry suspected the leaking staff compost toilet was to blame. Well, what could you expect from a school built in 2005?

Tariq, 11, rolled over in bed. He heard his dad, Harry, slam the front door on his way to work. It was only 7am, too early to get up. Then he glimpsed the flashing light on his digital Slate. He hadn't finished his homework and he would not be able to access anything else until he did.

"Fascists," he muttered, a word he had learnt from his rebel sister, Zara, 14. But there was no choice. He grabbed the Slate and snuggled down. Not too bad. Only eco-geography, predicting the course of the latest icebergs to drift down from the Arctic.

He accessed the school intranet. Crashed again. It had not been the same since the internet collapsed the year before. The system had been patched up, but Tariq was scared; he couldn't see how the world could function without it. More importantly, he couldn't see how he would keep in touch with his mum in Iran.

Homework done, he got up and put on his uniform. The temperature controls in his coat were still playing up, which meant Tariq was likely to freeze on the way to school and roast once he arrived. He checked he had his ID card, picked up the Slate, shut the front door and remembered he had forgotten breakfast. He'd have to get some crisps in the corner shop. Thank God he was now old enough to be allowed to buy junk food by himself.

Today was one of the two days of the week he spent at the secondary school that shared the site with his primary. Eleven-year-olds in their transition year picked their best and worst subjects to try out at secondary. The thinking was that you would be stretched in your best and inspired in your worst. Tariq had picked technology as his favourite and information analysis (IA) as his worst. He loathed having to plough through screenfuls of data in order to come up with his version of some kind of truth. How was he supposed to know what was right? Still, he enjoyed the team teaching.

The two IA teachers and their assistants put on a good act. They could make a lecture hall full of kids laugh - no wonder they got to travel the country with their lessons. He also liked his secondary "gang". His dad had rolled his eyes when Tariq had told him he had been put in Tiger - all the gangs were named after extinct animals. In his day, he said, he had been in Windsor house, named after a now extinct royal family, and he had hated it.

Tariq replied that it was different now, not competitive, more like a community. They even had some babies from the creche in Tiger, he said proudly.

Humph, said his dad. Lucky the teachers who got to change their nappies.

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