Friday, 2 October 2015

Why do we still blame the tools, not the workmen?

On the same day that I attend an evening session at my son's school to discuss the use of an online maths resource the pupils will use for their maths homework called 'Mathletics', I see two stories about schools that have banned screens in the education process and, on one case, where they were discouraged at home too, where the school's charter says "We are against all forms of electronics for small children and only gradual integration towards it in adolescence. That includes the internet."

The articles included a report by the OECD which had been interpreted by some sites and other media to suggest that children learn 'worse' with computers than without.

The suggestion by the other schools is that screens are damaging to the education of the children.  I wonder if teachers are concerned that the kids have difficulty concentrating, and are constantly distracted by the screens.

It calls to mind the CTO who told me, while I was researching my book, that employees using social media during work hours was not a technology issue but a performance management issue. If the managers who wanted him to block Facebook so that their teams were not distracted were better at motivating the teams, distraction wouldn't be an issue. 

And back in the eighties when I was temping in over a  dozen different offices, I found plenty of ways to distract myself if I was bored or felt unchallenged.  This was before the internet.  Back then we had books. Newspapers. Magazines. Comics. Telephones. Doodling.  Tea breaks. Toilet breaks. Extended lunch breaks (down the pub for a game or three of pool).

Banning something doesn't get rid of it (drugs, alcohol during prohibition, homosexuality or abortion in decades past) and often makes it more attractive. Forbidden fruit and all that.

“Boy Choosing” by arztsamui
Children who don't have access to screens will not learn how to code. How to hack machines. They won't have access to the wealth of knowledge available on there web.  They won't learn how to create and edit videos, record music, publish their own creativity.

What is frustrating is that the charter from that London school banning all screens seems to echo the rejection of technology by the Amish societies.  Of course one can learn well without screens.  Of course screens can be distracting and can be a disincentive to concentrate. But the reality is that people have screens all around them.  

What they need is education and training on what constitutes sensible and appropriate usage. When to use screens and when not to.  

They will not, as I fear some of the children at the schools that reject screens might be, unprepared and even fearful of spending their days with screens.  That is how many, if not most, of us spend our days. We use screens.  If the screen stops someone learning appropriately, or working efficiently, then the teacher or manager needs to look hard at their own techniques.

Stop blaming the technology, and start looking for more creative solutions that do not banish technology but embrace it and put it in context.

What I can hope for is that those children will go up, clueless, and ready to read the umpteenth edition of my book 'Making Social Technologies Work'... I can but hope.