No more Noughties anymore?

End of Term Report: December 2009

Pupil Name:  Third Millennium

“Third Millennium has found it difficult to settle in to his new age group. He seems more interested in playing computer games, watching Reality Show DVDs on his HDTV and catching up on the latest celebrity gossip than he does coming to terms with his social and economic studies. Lacking in suitable role-models he has been frequently noughtie and spends too much time getting involved with fighting pupils from other schools. Although Third is becoming increasingly aware of the need to make a more sustainable effort, he has yet to make the major commitment that will be needed if he is to seriously improve his results. There are testing times ahead if he is to start to make real progress in his teenage years…

So the time has come to look back and try to guess what history will make of the decade that is about to pass. How has life changed? Do we live in a better or a worse place?

There’s no question that the ‘Information Age’ has finally dawned, with extraordinary changes to the way we access our entertainment and connect and communicate across the World Wide Web. Instead of using new technologies to simply automate what we did before, we are slowly starting to realise that IT is a lot more than ‘Just Another Tool’, and something that represents an agent for substantial change in the way we live our lives.

Back in 1999 an increasing number of people had access to the internet, though not to a faster broadband connection, and e-mail was becoming a common form of communication, but the proliferation of social networking sites was still to emerge. The first iMac had appeared. A significant number of people had mobile phones – though the sort that just made and received phone calls. However, there were no iPods, no iTunes, no iPhones or Apps, no flatscreen TVs or monitors. And digital cameras were still expensive and only capable of taking small-size, poor quality images. We’d heard about something called Big Brother, but had no idea how much we all really, really wanted Reality TV. On-line shopping was in its infancy and wasn’t expected to catch on, and Sat-nav was still something you only saw in old 007 movies. Home-working was still something that school-children did. During the past decade, without doubt these have been the things that have changed, and generally improved, our lives the most.

But look around the house, down the high street and at the hundreds of other products and services we interact with on a daily basis. With just a few exceptions, things – what we eat, wear, how we travel, healthcare, etc., remain pretty much the same as they were back in 1999, accept often relatively cheaper. And in some respects they have become worse, particularly in terms of there now being such a wide range of choice it’s almost impossible to decide which the best option is, and in the quality of service. Whatever happened to ‘Customer Care’?

So what about education? Back in the late 1990s I was visiting a lot of different schools. The schools I go to today seem generally much the same. If anything there’s an even greater sense of a production line, manufacturing consistent batches of bland ‘Mother’s Pride’ soft sliced white qualifications, quicker, cheaper and more efficiently than ever before. Teachers seem even busier – they don’t even have time to answer emails, let alone have time to think about developing their subject knowledge or teaching skills – the main concern seems to be more to do with the latest administrative initiative and updating risk assessments. At least there finally seems to be some increasing doubts about the validity of traditional methods of assessment, but the majority still believe in romanticised view of academic education that continues to leave tens of thousands of teenagers disaffected with the idea of education as a whole. It seems unbelievable that we still have not yet found a way that successfully ensures every child who leaves school can read, write and do basic maths.

So in decades to come, who will we look back on as the great inventors, creators and heroes of the first ten years of the new millennium – the individuals, the movers and shakers who really made a difference? Let’s see now, there was Jamie Oliver, Russell Brand, Jade Goody, Simon Cowell..?

The 1970s currently has the reputation of being the most miserable decade in recent years. My prediction for the future is that as such it is about to be demoted into second place behind the Noughties. Let’s just hope the next ten years start to see some real changes for the better.