One per Child

Why bother to have schools?

I’m sure you can imagine societies that don’t have schools and see no need for them. What is different about our society that makes them necessary?

There are probably as many definitions of what it means to be an ‘educated person’ for our age as there are people, but we can surely agree on some basics:

- Being literate. Able to understand the communications that come at you from all directions and being able to communicate with others in the way they respond to.

- Being able to converse. This is not the same as just being literate, it is about knowledge and concepts and opinions based on these, and the debating skills that enable you to convince others to agree with your view.

- Being numerate. Able to understand and manipulate numbers and the way numbers are presented.

- Being able to learn. To earn one’s living these days this means continually learn. Every tradesman and professional has to keep up with the advances in the tools, materials, services and processes in their line of work.

- Ability to be productive. It is not enough just to have knowledge, you have to be able to use the tools and processes of your trade to produce the outputs that others will pay for.

- Ability to make friends. We are social animals living in societies that are based on friendships and convivial relationships.

All of these of course depend on the society you live in. There are villages and small towns in the UK where all of these can be achieved without going anywhere near computers. But these are limited societies that don’t offer many opportunities for young people.

There are also some professions that only require these skills to be developed in limited ways. Politicians for example need excellent conversational skills but rely on others to produce the things they use. They use advisers to learn about new things and to tell them just what they need to know.

I don’t know about other parents, but for me this is not enough. I want my children to have choice of career and friends. I want them to be properly educated in the above ways.

And I can’t see how they can possibly be properly educated for the 21st century without ready access to a connected computer. Literacy now involves visual and aural media as much or more than written text. Conversation is not just face to face, but is also asynchronous and through forms such as email and texts that have their own grammar. Presentation of numbers is now very often graphical and even managing one’s finances requires a calculation aid. Many of the tools and processes of business and trade are computer-based. Friends expect online friendship and communication as well as face-to-face. And most of all, the ‘learning platform’ for adults is the Internet. In many areas of work the information and new knowledge people need is only available via the Internet.

We have schools because most parents don’t have the knowledge or time to teach their children all they need to know to be educated. It follows that parental expectations of the school their children go to is that it does have the ability to teach the children properly. In the past when I’ve taught classes at times I have told the class to put their pens and pencils away, because the next activity was a discussion and I wanted them to concentrate on it and not be doodling. But I know now, having developed my discussion and debating skills, that I need to note down points and arguments. I think very visually and the ‘Rogergram’ diagrams I create in discussions are often grabbed at the end of the meeting by the other party, because they catch the key issues and the inter-relationships.

I cannot imagine a school that globally banned pens and pencils. For exactly the same reason I cannot imagine sending my children to a school that globally banned pupils’ own laptops, iTouchs or iPads - or phones which are rapidly merging with these. What are such schools thinking about? Where is their vision? You only have to look back 5 or 10 years at how technology has advanced, to know that within similar timescales going forward the vast majority of children will have their own computer device from somewhere around 7 or 8 years old.

Given the amount of change this is going to cause in schools the sooner the better to get working on the policies and processes to manage one per child computers.

However I do also wonder whose responsibility it is to help schools with such a momentous and rapid change. Just suppose all the patients walking into hospital were bringing in their own diagnosis aid and box of medicines from which to prescribe the medicines they need?