Saturday, 19 January 2008

Why Emily scares me stiff. (Click to download the article)

It’s a long time since I was so shocked by an issue

The last time, before reading the Robert Hart article (see below) in ICTOPUS SGP 15, I was so upset by news, was when I watched dead cows being lifted with a JCB onto trucks already piled with carcasses on TV.

This article has been a wake-up call for me to switch my energies from working from WITHIN education to working from the OUTSIDE and those that control where education is going – My MP, my local radio and television and influential newspapers.

I believe we must slow down and reverse a trend that is/has happened since I was young.

The image of a ten year old Emily Saunders coming in from school and working on her computer for a full two hours every day of the week frightens me. Even if this time were spent doing high level thinking activity it would deeply concern me as Emily is depicted as representing one of 120,000 children doing the same in the UK, from one in three Primary Schools. Furthermore her activities are not that demanding – she is chatting to other children by typing on her keyboard and spending some time designing her web site and possibility investigating various topics.

That parents, the school, the Department of Education, BECTa (the government department responsible for IT education) and now ICTOPUS may feel that this is a desirable activity concerns me greatly.

Children already spend the hours between 9 am and 3:30 pm in an artificial environment with other children and a few adults in the institution we call ‘school’. Many parents think that this is a good thing : here they will be trained to become responsible adults that can look after themselves. When the parents come home many have been glad in the past that their children sit quietly watching TV or in more recent years playing computer games – now it is chatting on line.

In my view the most important attribute of the adults we employ as teachers is that they inspire the children to investigate, to be active, to continue the characteristics they had when they first went to school. I like to call this inquisitivity. Why? Why? How? How? Can I? Can I? . . .

Thesekind of teachers are to be found in really good schools of which there are many. But there are many were children go because they have to. They go to be controlled and taught what they’re not interested in.

Those that do not thrive in this environment are seen as failures.

Are these the children that grow into gang members on the edge of society? Youths that feel alienated. Where criminal activity challenges them to use their wits to get the better of 'them'.

When I was young I spent a fair bit of time in activities outside my house when I returned from school. Running errands, shopping, going swimming, playing in the park. I was fixed up with a job at the local grocers in the school holiday – I might have done a paper round nowadays.

At eleven my parents rightly judged that I could cope with the journey from Paris to Birningham – train/boat/train/tube/tube/train. My mother sent me off, my father collected me. It was for me the trip of a lifetime. On the boat the Captain took me under his wing. I had dared to venture up the stairs marked PRIVATE to the control deck to ask questions. Instead of booting me out , as would have happened if I had been older, I was allowed to stay and watch messages being sent down to the engine room – "Full speed ahead" – "Left had down a bit". I was even persuaded that we were having a race with another boat and allowed to use the binoculars to check on its position. I was then told that I could go down to the engine room with the noise of the machinery driving the propeller and the steam leaking out and the smell of hot oil – walking on expanded metal walkways and stairs,shining bright silver, to tell the engineer how we were doing in our ‘race’. Everyone was so friendly and treated me as an important member of the team – errand boy / lookout . Up and down I scampered. To the bridge for the binoculars and down to the hot stinking noisy 'hell hole'. “We’re catching them up” "We’re ahead ” We've won" as we came into Newhaven - and the engineer beamed.

Can you imagine experiences like this being available now? We don’t let our children down to the park because “they will come to harm”. People are not used to trusting strangers. We have become alienated. Children won’t give me eye contact, they did up to the age when they ‘didn’t know better’.

Instead of children being encouraged to go on adventures they are protected from danger. It will take some time for them to find that 99% of adults are reliable and helpful to those they have got to know – people who live down the street, old retired people with stories to tell and old gadgets from their early life.

What a bland life we are encouraging our children to live in, with our protected chatrooms. Surely life is far better than that.

It could be that as a result of my early life, I went to America to work for eight years, I came back and ditched my training as a Chemical Engineer and bought farm buildings, converted then into a Holiday Self-catering business, cooked meals commercially, won awards. The when a divorce shattered that, I came into the town centre and converted a disused building into a restaurant/coffee shop that provided live entertainment four nights a week.

When this failed I collapsed in a heap. Then after a year I was off to train at Goldsmiths at 53 to be a teacher of Design Technology and now at 72 a proponent of Flash 4 in ICT.

Robert Hart’s clubs and the attitude of ICTOPUS in promoting them as ‘Good Practice’ scare me stiff. I have this image of a young girl, lacking in confidence heading for a third-best way of life, resembling a beautiful cow hoisted up on a sacrificial JCB for the cause of ‘foot and mouth disease” protection. No wonder the farmers wept. So will the girl's parents perhaps.

Now perhaps you understand why I feel so strongly!

Society is heading for a fall.

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