Tech Talk

                A news item that amused me this week was the announcement that children are to be taught ‘computer language’ at school.  The first thought that struck me was ‘Good!’ because a large [and larger by the year] number of children entering school have no language whatsoever, or none that can be understood, and perhaps they will gain some means of communication. In a class of 5 and 6 year olds I taught a child repeatedly came to me and said ‘Srink!, srink!’. It took me some time to work out that this meant he would like to get a drink.

                And then I wondered when this teaching of computer language is to take place. During the last twenty years, any number of bits have been added to the school curriculum, and as far as I can tell, nothing has been subtracted. All this adds up to a mighty long day, surely? If they are to get enough sport-and this is in response to the growing obesity problem, begin to grow and cook their own food [does anyone besides a teacher know what the logistics of gardening and cooking with a class of 30 kids entails?], do enough literacy and numeracy [we are told every day how innumerate the population is becoming], study ‘citizenship’, learn how to be healthy, get a bit of religion and pick up some art, music, history, geography and dance [oh-and what about science and technology?], when is this language learning to take place? Did I leave anything out? I wonder, seriously if they should be allowed to go home at all, since they will have no time to eat dinner, wash or sleep.

                And who is going to teach it? During the 90s we all had to undergo some stringent training to be able to use and/or teach information technology-and yes, we did teach quite a bit of programming, even then. Remember the turtle, ‘pen down’ and programming it to draw patterns on paper the floor?

                I can see the time approaching when the middle man can be cut out entirely. Let’s not bother with teaching anyone about talking computer speak-let’s just let the computers talk to each other. I feel convinced they will make a much better job of conversation than the majority of humans will in the future. As I said in a long distant [but still much visited] post, The Art of Conversation is struggling to survive anyway and most people seem to commune exclusively with some kind of screen. In fact, I suppose in the end machines will rule the world and mankind will simply fade away to become an exhibit in a museum visited by robots.

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School is nearly out

“Michael Gove axes six-week summer holidays for schools

The education secretary is warned a ‘free for all’ could emerge after headteachers get the freedom to set their own term dates”

 

                Little Govey, I suspect is one of the ‘teachers’ have too easy a life’ brigade. Once upon a time, when I was a key stage one school teacher I was, along with everyone else I knew in teaching, subjected to those old chestnut phrases long beloved of non teachers:

  • Nine to three job
  • Lovely! All those long holidays
  • What, another holiday?
  • Easy life!

                In time I learned a retort which was to silence the barbed, jealous swipes people made about my job. I’d simply say-“Why aren’t you doing it, then?”

                There are still numerous myths surrounding teaching as a job. Firstly, the ‘long, six week, summer holiday’ no longer exists [in the state sector]. It just about struggles to five weeks, for children. Take another two weeks off for the teachers. That’s the minimum time it takes to clear up from one class and prepare for the next. A primary phase teacher will have to organise a [probably new to her] classroom, label everything, cover display boards [like wallpapering an enormous room], put up initial displays covering aspects of reward systems etc, organise the students into different ability groups for at least two curriculum areas and prepare curriculum long term, medium term and lesson plans for each of those groups in each curriculum area, besides preparing the accompanying resources and making individual provision for anyone with individual needs. After the first year of teaching there will also be at least one curriculum area to manage, including an ‘action plan’ and the ordering and organisation of resources.

                How, I wonder does the education secretary imagine that all this is to be done if holidays are taken at random?

                For children nowadays it is more important than ever not to miss out parts of the term. The curriculum is carefully constructed in steps, with each next step built on the progress made in the last. To miss two weeks would be like watching the first part of a TV thriller followed by the last. You would be unlikely to understand what was going on without the middle section.

                Once the term begins, a teacher will be in place long before the bell rings for registration, getting out all the resources, loading up the computer with all the pre-planned teaching aids and preparing the classroom for the morning onslaught-then the same frantic activity at ‘lunchtime’ ready for the afternoon. Once the pupils have left there is sorting out, marking, assessment, adjustment of plans, meetings, training sessions, report writing, etc-on top of a demanding day with small children. More often than not, there will be more work to take home for the evening.

                There will also be stressful observations [both internal and with the dreaded ‘OFSTED’] to undergo. Manifestations of disruptive behaviour or low ability during observations are deemed to be the fault of the teacher, always.

                So, little Mr Gove, understand that such holidays as there are exist as a lifeline for beleaguered teachers.

                Oh…and parents…your children don’t go to school to be babysat…a school holiday is an opportunity for you to share experiences and fun as a family, not a time to be carped about as a nuisance. OK?

                Here endeth the lecture!