A computer is a machine. How can a bit of hardware improve or diminish anything? Before just dismissing the page at the end of this link out of hand or embracing it and saying there, I told you so:
… may we step back and look at it sanely?
The primary aged child has X amount of usable time in lessons and independent schools extend that with clubs, sports, private music lessons, offering a vast array of part-time fields.
I was in the state system in my early years and looking back, it was surprising – in Year 6, our gruff man teacher used to have everyone, including the boys, knitting and crocheting now and then, with ongoing projects, e.g. knitting scarfs. Well done that man. The girls had to endure learning about mechanics, internal combustion engines.
Would that he’d had us doing domestic science as well, cooking basic meals. That had to wait decades for me.
That school had it right – the primary child needs to experience almost every field in some modest way but not sex education – that belongs to the parents. However, many parents were not comfortable with that and so the school had an organization come in, I think attached to a Christian aid thing but I can’t recall. Parents could opt to send us to those occasional evenings. The good thing was that we got the information but it wasn’t dwelt on and the theme throughout was that this was what mummies and daddies did, not us.
The school also took the attitude that the school can only do so much and needed to devote huge amounts of the school week to its core subjects, e.g. English, Maths, Science, so weighting of subject hours was critical and almost war between departments. When I became a Prep school head, that was already pretty much in place and I tweaked it here and there.
The big debate back then, especially around the time of the introduction of the Nation Curriculum, which came on strong around 1995 – though it had been on the way since 1990 -was sciences versus humanities, following on from the 80s debate on cognitive versus skills learning. My attitude was to say yes.
Yes, meaning as many different angles as possible, all weighted fairly, none of this baby out with the bathwater guff, wild swings one way or the other.
Plus working with parents. We didn’t just have PT evenings, we had more or less constant contact – most parents dropping their children off at school and so it only remained to follow up those we never saw. Our staff were always to stop in a lesson if a parent arrived at the door and give a few minutes to that parent. I employed young staff who were good with the parents.
We did push parents to read with children and having modest libraries at home. There were visiting book firms and part of the week was that children had 40 minutes to visit the hall, plus at breaktimes if they wished. We built up our own library too but never thought it could replace home or town libraries.
Computers? Mainly IT lessons with BBC computers, turtles on the floor, BASIC, then Apple IIE I recall. It was essential the computer teacher was warm and friendly and unfortunately one of ours, an aggressive male, a curmudgeon, technically adept but impatient, put many children, plus us, right off computing. He set me back personally a decade, though he did become a personal mate. The best was a lady teacher who was infinitely patient.
When computers came into classrooms themselves, it was seen by my highers-up as a status symbol, whereas I saw it only as an adjunct to learning. Even then there were good programmes coming our of Oxford and Cambridge, fun adjuncts, not complete systems. Flashcard and voice were still major influences and so they should have been.
Trouble was, it was becoming big business for firms and when Pearson, Addison Wesley Longman [whom I worked for in Russia for some time] and others came heavily into computer learning, going to in-service days, they unfortunately did not embrace the teacher input in the traditional way.
In the classroom, teachers saw it as a perfect way to offload many of the children on computers whilst concentrating on the slower kids. Thus the bright kids saw less face to face time and heard less voice input and had less blackboard or whiteboard time.
In all of this, anyone sane would surely conclude that what it needed and always will need was a balance. Macintosh even had a school curriculum designer though that was more timetable angled, the inputs still by the individual schools.
One aspect not thought about at the time was the influence of Them, as blogged about today. Those nasty muvvers were already influencing by getting schools onto their materials, especially through IT and the values were those of Them.
We saw that some years back with World Core Curriculum and of late with the American core curriculum. Whilst pollies, e.g. Gove, might be genuine in wanting a return to the three Rs, this is not what the programme designers were giving children – they were subtly but effectively brainwashing them. Trouble was – the teachers were also susceptible.
I saw that in Russia too though it was already in place. The old texts which taught skills of some kind used examples and the examples were all communist party. Every second page in every subject had cultural teaching. Why was Shakespeare’s Henry V a failure as a play? Because the notion of a “good” king was unrealistic.
That’s how it was done. And this was also how the western materials coming out of Oxford and Cambridge started to go, which made me think just what low skill leftists were in those places? And I do mean low skill – grammatical errors abounded.
There were changes for the sake of change. There was a point when the present continuous tense in grammar was replaced with the present progressive. Small change and I’m not suggesting there was any political association with the word “progressive” in the grammar lessons and yet the word was still introduced. A child asks a teacher about it, “Glad you asked that, Johnny because …” The options were always there.
And it got worse. It was the parents who first latched onto the huge decrease in exercises on topics unless you bought the extender companion text or the exam preparer. The base text now had lots of pretty pictures over most of the page and one or two exercises to get the idea.
That was pathetic and if a teacher, at his own expense and time, prepared worksheets to supplement this, when was he going to use it with the children? The programmes were comprehensive in terms of teaching hours required and always took far longer than the hours available.
That point in itself was critical. It looked very much as if those in curriculum research who worked with these firms had not a clue what day-to-day teaching involved, with time always being robbed for incidents, visiting guests, special days, all of it. If the book required 10 teaching hours to complete a unit, you’d be lucky to end up with 6 to 7. Thus one would either get way behind or cut corners and the exam at the end required us not to do that.
Or else it was deliberately done, so that there was no time for teachers’ own input, except through the programmes, particularly if the teacher one year above was expecting a certain amount to have been covered upon entry.
These were issues coming up the whole time. Teachers were forever complaining they could not get through the whole course. It was true, they couldn’t and so the head and staff had to select and deselect some and keep others. Guess which parts the culturally left teachers wished to retain and which the older style teachers wanted?
This was how the propaganda war, now in full swing, started – materials, in-service days and the school buying whole literacy and numeracy programmes. Not to mention what happened with British history. You can imagine the lies which got through there in the materials.
Back to the link at the top here. My feeling is that it’s not so much IT which is at fault – that’s just a technology and technology is one part of the whole – but the total selling of the soul to those who create, prepare and package these programmes.
That’s where the cultural values get through, plus through the brainwashed teachers. Almost all teachers are, even to a slight degree, left-oriented, in the sense of save the forests or be kind to an ethnic. But more than that, the materials require them to impart what is on the page or in the programme on the laptop.
Having been out of the field for a long time now, I’ve also become freed from the subtle yet still most pervasive cultural pressure and the result you see now in my blogging. Were I still inside, I’d wager my blogging stance would be different.
IT heavy learning is detrimental, says the OECD? It entirely depends on how it’s used and implemented.