Schools are failing our children simply because they are technophobes

Few industries have been left unscathed by the digital revolution.

But there is one glaring exception waiting to be disrupted by technology for the benefit of its long-suffering consumers, and that is education. It has changed very little since the 19th century – or indeed since the days when Socrates imparted knowledge to his students in ancient Greece.

scunyman: I've read some bollocks in newspapers over the years but this must go down as the most misinformed tripe I have ever read. Go back to school Mr Heath.

ianbio: How sad that an ad hominem attack with no substance or argument heads the comment thread.  Please either back it up or withdraw it.

zebedee: You don't debate with a puerile ignoramus who knows nothing about the subject and is simply trying to cause trouble for a cheap shot.

roland500: ianbio: Allow me to try. My son, a fine art teacher and a good one at that, with both a degree and a teachers' training qualification, just loved teaching. However spontaneity is no longer possible for teaching is already requiring real-time monitoring. For example: He mourns the time when on a fine day he could just take his pupils for a walk on the common to paint and draw. Now he has to give several days notice by filling in numerous forms to all and sundry. It's about risk and health and safety, don't you know. Gove is inflicting on teachers the same tick-box culture that has been inflicted on others such as the police and nursing. Gove is encouraging the technophobes for those who make sure that all the right boxes are ticked get on regardless of whether or not they are good teachers. There are examples of good teachers who get good results are put under pressure because they haven't had the right boxes ticked. By the way, just when do they get to teach when they have to input information on a couple of hundred pupils? Pray tell me how anyone can teach 30-35 pupils of mixed ability from various backgrounds with a varying understanding of the English language many of whom are from broken homes with normally one parent who couldn't care about their child's education? Moreover they are already engulfed in paperwork with having to monitor every pupil move. If there is one piece of advice I would give to Mr Gove it is reduce class sizes. That is the part he should be playing for it is that more than anything that will allow teachers to teach and thereby improve results. I know what I have written is very superficial and many holes can be picked but Mr. Heath ought to stick to writing about financial matters rather than straying into territory which makes him look very silly indeed. Oh! and in conclusion. A manager - Gove - will not get the best out of his people while he goes around criticising them almost at every turn and getting the Head of OFSTED to do the same. That said Gove may have belatedly realised this - slow learner our Mr Gove as it has only taken him three years - for earlier this week I heard rare praise for teachers from him.

germanspy:  Reducing class sizes sounds easy… Where in all God's creation are you suddenly going to get the extra classrooms and teachers from if you do tha? ( Then there's the money for their salaries…)

bluemoan: However, 36 people read the article, read the posted comments and are also of the opinion it's bollocks, and I'm similarly inclined to Recommend this succinct and accurate 2-liner. 

escoville: Remember the language lab? It ruined language teaching for a generation. 1) Because the technology as often as not didn't work; and 2) because it was based on a theory of language acquisition that was losing favour even then, and is thoroughly discredited now. Even so, let's not forget, all the technophiles were pushing for it. Schools have every reason to be very cautious about technology. They must ask at least three questions: 1) will it work without the continual ministrations of a technician; 2) will it do anything we can't already do more simply; and 3) not least in view of the language lab fiasco: will it encourage interaction between the people in the classroom? Unless the answer to all three questions is an unequivocal 'yes', then don't touch it.  I recall a short story (I forget who by) about computerized education. It was called 'What Fun They Must Have Had'. Should be compulsory reading. Incidentally, what are these 'contemporary workplaces' that schools are to become 'more like'? Building sites? Farms? Garages? Gyms?  Or was the author, evidently an office worker, thinking of offices? (If so, god help the kids.)

jdward: "The Fun They Had" by Isaac Asimov.

escoville: Thanks. I read it years ago, and while I remember the story well, I hadn't realized it was by him.

thierrytt: The executives of global companies still fly across the world to have face to face conferences. That includes the executives of the biggest sellers of  internet conferencing  technology. If they do that there must be a reason.

stopwhining: Good point, but it's not really the point here. Technology is increasingly a part of everyday life. It should be incorporated into education - become normalised - so this country can stand half a chance in the future!

timtherabbit: Heavy use of consumer technology in education is not the answer to becoming more competitive.  Thoughtful and motivated individuals make for advances in the Arts and Sciences.

thierrytt: I am very tempted to say "explain".

John Smith: Airmiles at someone elses expense . .

zebedee: The reason is… its much cheaper to buy a shag abroad than in the UK.

ianbio: As such a (former) executive I have some insight. When international travel was massively curtailed post 9/11 productivity actually went up. But after about 6 months things started getting bad. The problem was that face to face (actually social drinking time) is needed to allow electronic communication to work. But you only need a bit of it, and it does not look like conventional meetings which are better done by video. The face to face stuff is best constructed as social, gaming, argumentative sessions.  The lessons for education are, I think, obvious.

wandawales: Second-rate universities used to be technical colleges. Perhaps they should return to those roots and not pretend to be universities. Students should then have a useful knowledge and practical knowledge to enable them to find good well-paid work.

The Ayatollah Buggeri: Many universities are also entering online education, suggesting a shift of focus towards exams and delivering seals of approval, rather than on buildings and halls of residence, with the partial exception of the practical sciences. And their students are suffering as a result.  I can guarantee you that the students who fail to turn up to my lectures and seminars, claiming that they cover the syllabus on Blackboard at their own convenience, are the ones that will eventually struggle, and see that struggling reflected in their marks.  This situation has now got so bad that I have introduced a simple (and, at the end of the first academic year I've done it, very effective) rule: if a student fails to attend the lecture and/or seminar in which a given topic is covered, then if (s)he later emails or shows up for an office hour asking for tutorial support on it, the request is politely declined because the student has stated, by not attending, that they don't need my help and can cover that topic by themselves. The twelve years I have been a full-time academic have convinced me that 18-21 year olds need the structure and focus that attending formal taught deliveries and interacting with lecturers and other students in a directed way brings.  They also need to develop the ability to think and perform under pressure that traditional exams enable.  It is no coincidence that the higher paying, more prestigious occupations (prinicpally medicine and law) are precisely the ones that are assessed overwhelmingly on exams and practical tests. Those who disagree with me ofen cite The Open University as evidence that distance learning is the way forward.  They fail to take account of the fact that OU students are a very different group from straight-from-school undergrads.  They're typically 20-30 years older, are very highly motivated (for them, HE represents an investment and a risk that even with today's student fees, it fundamentally doesn't for a typical 18 year-old) and bring workplace experience to the process of studying.

timtherabbit: Well said.

Mike Barnes: Why can't you give your lectures via webcam to students sitting at home in their underpants?

ianbio: You are making a fundamental error. Your thesis is based on the idea that students using online learning tools instead of turning up to your lectures are learning in an unconstrained, unmonitored way. That is not what Mr Heath is saying. The educational revolution he is describing does not leave students abandoned - you are right, they need structure. But that structure is more detailed, more personalised and more interactive that counting who turns up to a lecture.

Jonathan Burkitt: As a graduate and a person who attended a 'paperless' school (each and every student was given a duel purpose tablet/laptop) I have to agree with you.   One of my lecturers enforced such a rule, and significantly more students turned up to their lectures, and I believe the average grade was higher in those classes.  People who say they are going to learn from Blackboard rarely actually do the work, until exams are around the corner, when they realise 'Ohh No' I need to learn it all.   Another lecturer put the information up for one week and if people did not download it, then it was their fault for not engaging.  Blackboard rarely gives the depth one needs to succeed and get a good grade, so getting students overly reliant on it can be highly damaging to their prospects and the reputation of the University. Though I have to say Blackboard is great platform for storing all the handouts, extended reading and all the course details. I also like that we took our multiple choice exams on the platform allowing our exam grades to appear within a day. Key part of having to attend classes is the opportunity to engage, though asking questions, giving opinions and communicating and debating with others.  This allows students to get a better depth of knowledge and allows them to develop their communication and thinking skills.  Technology can be far too rigid, as it is only as flexible as the person who programmed it made it.  Human contact is vital for education, and any suggestions that it is not is simply wrong.  Also having to attend physical lectures can help people get into a routine which is required for work, though I have to admit my 8 hours a week at university did not really do that, as it let me sleep in until 12 :o! So having attended a 'paperless' school I can tell you that young people can easily be distracted.  My biology class everyone was too busy looking at their screens to actually engage and listen to what the teacher was telling them. I personally was playing video games I had setup, the girls were shopping ect.  So my personal experience technology can be a distraction just as much as a benefit.  The real benefit that I saw from technology was keeping me organised, the previous years I would have huge piles of papers from every single class mixed together just sitting in my backpack.  Having Microsoft OneNote was a life saver.   My old economics teacher has created a useful portfolio of economics tutorial videos, that he uses as a study aid.  Despite these being useful I wouldn't for a moment trade him for the videos, as if I were to struggle he could come up with a new example that he could use to explain what I didn't understand. End of the day I believe technology is a teaching aid, not an alternative to a teacher/lecturer.   Technology on its own can be a pure distraction, anti-social and inflexible tool.  So while I agree more adoption of computer skills in school, such as programming and software use, going as far as virtual classes being the solution is simply a daft idea.    I am sorry if I have not written a well structured response, I a am in a rush and I didn't use my extra dyslexia time allocation hahaha :P (which I never did anyway).

bluemoan: I work in IT and seldom have I read such drivel. You need good engaging teachers in schools properly teaching the core subjects with supportive parents. At home in spare time, and properly supervised, kids can research on the internet and make use of Educational software (there's loads of free stuff available). You do not need to shower classrooms with the latest gadgets, and expensive software packages, and have interactive white boards and video-conferencing etc. What a waste of money. Kids need to learn how to socialise and interact with others and the teacher in the classroom. Furthermore, the comment about Research rather than Applied Technology is utter tripe. The problem we have now in schools with IT is that kids are being taught office automation with PowerPoint and Excel not core computer science skills like how a chip works and how to programme in a computer language. That's why we're failing to provide industry with technically competent people rather than a zillion lay people i.e. Project Managers / Programme Managers / Managing Consultants who don't have a clue.