Getting IT Wrong

All Change Please! recently came across a fascinating post about an article written by one Samuel Moffat some 50 years ago – in 1968 – that anticipated the future use of computers in education.

At one level, it is extraordinary to see what the author got right:

  • children sitting at a PC with a keyboard and screen, wearing headphones
  • on-screen questions, assessed and scored by the computer
  • one or more IT suites in every school, including primary schools
  • individualised learning, with support for pupils who need more help
    children can work at their own speed
  • a global network of computers (though seemingly limited to the US) facilitating remote access to teachers
  • the prediction that computers will soon play a significant and universal a role in schools as books do today.

And amusing to see what he got wrong:

  • the computing machines mechanically load and control external film and slide projectors, tape recorders and record players
  • a boy being allowed to work all day on a science project.

The predictions are remarkable for the time, given that there were no calculators, photocopiers or video recorders in schools in 1968!

But at another level, it means that we’ve had at least 50 years to work out, agree and implement the most effective ways of using computers in school – something that so far we have pretty much failed to do. Although a few schools have effectively adopted the concept of ‘computer-aided learning’, there are still far too many where the approach is to ask for PCs to be removed from classrooms and the use of mobile phones to be banned.

As with most aspects of our working and domestic hours, IT has proved to be much more than being ‘just another tool’ as it was frequently described in the 1990s. That was a bit like saying that the introduction of the combustion engine driven car of the early 20th century provided ‘just another way to get from A to B’. Or that on-line shopping would never take off, and that people would continue to buy physical music CDs forever… And at the same time, IT was widely seen as a cost-saving method of automisation, rather than something that would begin to fundamentally change the way we live our lives.

Unfortunately, in many schools, the old-fashioned penny still hasn’t dropped. Most teachers still see Information Technology (IT) as ‘just another tool’, and continue to misuse it to attempt to deliver an automated, out-dated curriculum in an out-dated way. Like it not, IT will at some point significantly disrupt the processes of teaching and learning. And the problem is that while many educationalists continue to pretend it will one-day just go away, they are failing to define and demand what is an appropriate new pedagogy. As a result, big business and politics are rapidly moving in to make those decisions for them, and instead of computers being used to effectively support the ways we teach and learn, it is increasingly taking over and replacing our input into the process, if for no other reason that computers are cheaper to run than teachers are to employ.

IT still provides an extraordinary opportunity to discover new and better ways of learners acquiring knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, and making informed decisions about conflicting options. In the palm of our hand we now have the extraordinary potential to access in-depth information and ideas from around the world, to be able to collectively communicate with each other, and to manipulate vast amounts of complex data. Yet our current education system continues to prioritise essay-writing and answering Multiple Choice Questions – sitting isolated in the school hall – as its only method of assessing  achievement and capability.

At the same time, fifty years on, we have still to determine the way in which our children should be most effectively taught about IT and how to use it for themselves. The current, entirely unacceptable, excuse for not doing so appears to be along the lines of not seeing the need to bother because ‘the children understand more about it than we do’. To be fair, there is also a shortage of suitable teachers, and especially those with up-to-date experience of coding. But not everyone will need to be able to write complex computer programs in the future, just as not everyone needs to be able to design and construct an internal combustion engine to be able to drive their car.

However, children do need to learn to become capable and confident users of IT, to know about the way it impacts their lives, and how and when to use it, and perhaps more importantly, when not to use it. Unless we start to address the core issues in our schools we are likely to end up with a future society where individuals might potentially suffer from poorer cognitive function, reduced capacity for deep thought and contemplation, reduced ability to concentrate, increasing levels of pathological narcissistic behaviour, lower levels of empathy, an increase in depression and loneliness, and a whole host of physical problems stemming from the constant release of cortisone from the stress response together with an addiction to dopamine. Banning the use of mobile phones in schools will do nothing to help prevent this.

The world has moved on since 1968. Sadly education in England hasn’t.

Knowing exactly what it would say, All Change Please! didn’t bother to invite comment from the Df-ingE, and as a result, their spokesperson didn’t write…

‘As politicians and civil servants with no experience of the real world, we know all there is to know about education and the processes of teaching and learning and therefore do not intend to waste any time listening to anyone else. Our well established and highly successful educational policy involves continually repeating: ‘Thanks to our reforms, the evidence proves that we are providing the first-class world-beating education system demanded by employers and universities’ – a statement that readers of the Daily Mail appear to actually believe.’

Vive la langue française?

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La semaine dernière Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! was en vacances en France having le bon temps. Beaucoup, il ya many années Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! has étudiéd le français à l’école, ‘just in case’ il could be utile un jour. Malheureusement, ce n’ est pas être le case, et il estime that it wasted beaucoup de temps et d’efforts pour peu de return, mais il est surprised combien vocabulary il se souvient encore après tout ce temps.

Eh bien, that’s quite enough of that. So, why do we spend so much time teaching children French at school? Back in the mid 20th Century France was probably the foreign country you would be most likely to visit, and it was considered essential for entry to Oxbridge. And apparently if you learn one language it makes it easier to learn others. Going even further back it was the official court language, which of course the ‘educated’ needed to be able to speak. But these days we travel globally, and the vast majority of people we meet speak at least some English, or know someone who does. If they don’t, then Spanish, German or Mandarin would be likely to be far more helpful, especially for business purposes. And then of course there is also Google Translate, and all those clever little apps that are now nearly as good as the legendary Babel fish, that make learning a language much less of a necessity.

For the vast majority of children of course their work or leisure time is unlikely to require GCSE level fluency in a foreign language. While All Change Please! supports the idea of all children perhaps learning some useful everyday French, or even better German or Spanish, at a young age, it wonders if five further years of academic study to GCSE (England) French level for everyone is really appropriate?

Meanwhile, according to this article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html  there are a number of wider benefits to learning a foreign language. These include:

  • improved test scores in maths and English
  • the development of multi-tasking skills
  • a possible delay in the onset of dementia
  • improved memory recall
  • becoming more perceptive
  • more logical decision-making.

Maybe, agrees All Change Please!, but these benefits are hardly acquired uniquely by learning a foreign language and can be gained in other ways too, and in the context of a somewhat wider skill-set.

And while we’re talking about learning different languages, what about coding languages? The jury is still out as to whether everyone needs to learn how to code, and, while it might provide lucrative employment for a few gifted students, like so many other things, the repetitive, boring day-to-day, factory-level work will be out-sourced to another country where they do things cheaper. So what we really need is what other countries can’t provide – at least for now – that is an agile, creative approaches to the solving and implementation of complex and innovative IT solutions that successfully utilise well-designed user interfaces. Do we really need a generation of children capable of nothing more than whatever the coding equivalent of Franglais is? Hmm. Perhaps it will come to be called Codlish?

Meanwhile, All Change Please! is pleased to be able to say that it drank le bon vin, took un bateau pour un château et de manger quelque chose beaucoup de gâteau

Le All Change Please! got by with a little help from Google Translate and Tricia Translate.

Image credit: Fickr, wiseige  http://www.flickr.com/photos/whizzer/6078576560