Join the real world – Humane technology anyone?

A Swiss company sells a mobile phone which is designed for making telephone calls and sending SMS messages. If their website is to be believed they are supplying an antidote for distraction and access to “non-virtual reality”. Their founder compares his product to a pair of spectacles, something that is a pleasure to own and useful. If market forces are to be trusted, there is good money in the dumb phone market; Punkt released their second generation dumb ‘phone last week. At almost the same time iPads were being updated with the latest iteration of the IOS operating system. As part of this change a new feature has been introduced which allows parents a greater level of control over the length of time their children spend on their machine. Mr. Pearey sent a communication to parents about this feature last week.

iPad photo for coverIt is perhaps easy to believe that the BSP and many other schools embrace too quickly the latest technological marvel. The School was an early adopter of tablets but we have never seen technology usurping the very human, very real, often analogue process of education. Recent research regarding the efficacy of tablets in the classroom did not come as a surprise to us. We have always known that the iPad is an adjunct to established methods. We still have libraries, we write in exercise books, we debate face to face and we use pencils to draw. We also use iPads to research, discover and draw. I’m sure that the early adopters of exercise books were criticised by those who favoured slates. The iPad won’t replace the teacher, nor will it replace human thought. The 4th educational revolution is being written about but it has yet to really take hold.

Used thoughtfully the iPad allows for (amongst other things) greater levels of discovery. My Year 9 historians this week saw not only a photocopied map of Europe in 1890 but had access to the British Library’s collection of nineteenth century satirical maps. We did our research virtually but we recorded our results in a far more traditional manner. iPads push the walls of the classroom wider. Educational debate often focuses on a fruitless argument that pitches skills against knowledge. Young people need to have early exposure to technology and they also need to be educated as to what responsible use looks like. The iPad can develop both skills and knowledge. Every generation has a point of friction with the older generation. For me it was television, for the generation before it might have been transistor radios, I’m sure that the gramophone was viewed with suspicion. Balance is the key. Recently our Year 8s went to Normandy to study coastal geography, no iPad needed, they saw and they experienced. The subsequent write up may well have been done on their device.

Tech free evenings and weekends sound like a good idea to me and I am sure would fill many pupils with horror. Mindful use of machines seems a happy compromise, screen controls may be part of this. Prohibition is rarely successful, careful stewardship of a powerful resource would seem to be more prudent.

Nicholas Hammond

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