Losing game of give and tech
- By Harry Mount, The Daily Mail
Have you been inside a primary school recently? The old blackboards are gone and so are the wooden desks.
Classrooms have become little offices. Whiteboards, hooked up to computers, are the main teaching tool in the classroom. In one north London classroom I visited recently to deliver a lecture on journalism, every child had their own laptop. I was astonished — and not a little dismayed — by this wholesale reliance on technology.
Short attention span
Yes, the children were on the whole polite, attentive and curious, and the teachers committed and good at keeping discipline — but the moment the teacher's attention was diverted, the children turned to their computer games. The pupils were unable to complete their work (they had to produce a mock newspaper) because the printers had gone down. Cue another half an hour of computer games while the teacher tried and failed to get the printers working again.
That's why I was so dismayed by Gordon Brown's latest misguided wheeze. At the beginning of the week, he announced he's going to give away £300 million (Dh1,795 million) worth of free laptops and broadband access to 270,000 poor families, with priority for those with educational needs.
His aim is to make every family a "broadband family", in the naive belief that the internet, because it's modern, is some kind of magic wand that will help lift them out of poverty.
It's no such thing. For, the moment you hand a laptop to a child, the child will treat it the way most adults do — as a device designed to waste their time, avoid long periods of concentrated work, play games on, indulge their obsessions, narrow their horizons and reduce their attention span.
This may not have mattered so much were it not for the fact that widespread use of computers and the internet now lie at the heart of our education system.
The very nature of computerised learning involves "surfing" from one page to the next, from one subject to another and flicking through reams of material in seconds, only pausing on subjects that instantly seize your attention, never needing to memorise anything because it's all stored digitally.
That, surely, is anathema to the academic rigour that was once the foundation of a worthwhile education.
Yes, as Gordon Brown hopes, they might be reading War and Peace on their laptop but it is much more likely that they will be playing Grand Theft Auto IV or e-mailing each other.
The increasing use of computers for schoolwork has led to widespread plagiarism: copying other people's work is the easiest thing in the world with the internet, making it almost impossible for teachers to assess their pupils' true ability.
In pre-laptop days, it was fatal to put pen to paper before you had gone through the mental process of first constructing a pretty good argument in your mind or on paper. Now you can hit the backspace key, make up an argument on the hoof and restitch your line of thought.
I don't wish we could return to the days of chalk-on-blackboard. Modern technology — used sparingly and wisely — can enhance the learning experience. But wide-eyed Gordon Brown treats it with absurd reverence, ignoring the evidence that its influence is harming the way children interact with the world around them.