Friday, July 26, 2013
My last post was a grumpy diatribe about a member of HM Government, amongst other things. In particular, I took exception to his educational philosophy, alleging, probably correctly, that he really doesn't know what he's talking about and his rather pompous comments about the teaching of history have come in for a well-earned stint at the pillory. He has quaint notions that a grasp of the chronology of Kings and Queens of England is going to somehow bring the broad sweep of history and hence, presumably, some degree of national identity to people whose immediate ancestors may have come from some far-flung corner of the Empire. It might be cynical to suggest it, but it looks as if he's slipping patriotism under the educational radar, thereby invoking national pride and by inference, more Tory votes.It won't work. Any of it. For a long time it's become clear to me that the Facebook generation quite legitimately feels that when it walks through the door of a school, it is stepping back in time, the worst possible outcome for the young. Restrictions on mobile phones and use of tablet technology forces participants to engage with fusty old ideas like the use of an index in a textbook, use an actual pen to write with and be able to do the kind of arithmetic which a machine does instantaneously. I love the sensual sweep of a pen on a page and, although it might be thought outrageous to ask, how many of us regularly write things down? With a pen? How many of us calculate our supermarket bill in our heads, when a clearly itemised bill is routinely presented to us at checkout? I do, but I'm a bit strange like that. More and more, people can rely on a tablet to scratch down ideas, write notes, do simple calculations, to check prices, in other words, to run the equivalent of an Empire. It was the British who came up with the whole notion of an Education, since they had a business to run on which the sun never set and as long as all the worker bees who made sure that the system ran smoothly had a basic and identical grasp of fundamental communication methods, supplied in a neat lookalike package, a clerk in Bangalore was interchangeable with another in Bradford. The British invented micromanagement then exported it worldwide. Came across an interesting TED talk the other day - worth a look - which made the rather radical assertion that we don't really need schools in the traditional sense at all any more. An ex-teacher of computer programming made a hole in the wall of his institution into a next door slum, into which he installed a computer connected to the Internet. Children gathered and without instruction had figured out in a few hours what it could do for them. They taught each other how to work the mouse, how to browse and so on. Further experiments revealed that answers to very difficult questions could be discovered by nine-year-olds with access to appropriate technology. So, if a group of ragged slum kids in southern India really, really want to know which King followed Henry II, what he looked like, achieved, and how he died, they can find out in a snap. All most diverting. But, it still isn't enough because knowledge without understanding is like having wealth with nothing to spend it on. So, the educational behemoth won't be diverted so easily and will lumber along for a few more decades yet in pretty much its present form. I wish I knew what it would look like years from now, but I don't. And, I don't think anyone else does either.