In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.
This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.
Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.
A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:
“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“
Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?
Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.
And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:
‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’
And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.
Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.
But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…
“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “
So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…
“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”
In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?
Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.
Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.
Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?
Image © Tristram Shepard