A couple of days ago, I was with a few fellow governors and as we waited for a meeting to start, the conversation turned to technology and its alleged benefits. You see, the other governors were all older than I and they had some great school stories to tell. I was able to join in a little as I had my own stories about the time I went to a mad private school on Bodmin Moor. I loved that school because it was just pure academic focus interspersed by joyful play and I really flourished during the short time I was there. To the outsider though, that school would’ve seemed backward, out-of-touch – it was completely tech free.
So, I dared to say to my fellow governors that if I were to have my own school, ideally a free school, it would be completely tech-free. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. There were so many compelling reasons why I would just not bother with IWBs at all.
Firstly, there is something about the way these giant screens are positioned in all primary school classrooms that relegates the teacher to mere accomplice during a lesson. Even when the IWB isn’t being used, I notice that children can’t help but stare at the glowing screen while the teacher is, for example, reading them a story. Why is this? Perhaps children are increasingly used to staring at a screen more than looking at a human face. As I have said many times before, the current youngest generation of children are the first to have had a tablet computer placed in their hands from around the age of 2 (and parents think their children are genuises for using them) and they are yet to go to secondary school. These children are around year 4 and I wish the national media would pick up on this very different kind of neglect that affects all sorts of families, regardless of socio-economic status – sheer lack of human interaction that would otherwise teach a child the nuances of facial expressions, emotion, social scripts, self-control, taking an interest in others. For many, it is too late because everything and everyone is boring compared to Fortnite. So, if the IWB were to disappear, I think many children would benefit from being ‘re-set’ to looking at the teacher rather than a screen.
Already I can sense educators bewailing the lack of opportunities for these poor children in my ‘dream’ school to er…..do what exactly? What would they miss out on if I got rid of all the IWBs? Videos, interactive diagrams and google earth are the easy answers, but then I think back to the time before IWBs and try to remember how I was given an insight into the world beyond beyond the one I existed in. Books were the biggest feature and I poured over them. What if we expected children to look at a picture in a book about space and then imagine that asteroid’s orbit rather than simply being shown a video that requires an audience to make no effort at all? It seems like cruelty to expect children to ‘cope’ without their umbilical cord to the internet, doesn’t it?
Then there is the cost. Let’s face it, most of us teachers use the IWB to write and draw in the same way as teachers a generation ago would use a chalkboard. If we got rid of the IWBs, not only would we be getting rid of the cost of the equipment, but we’d also be getting rid of the distinct possibility of it all going wrong just as an Ofsted inspector steps into the room. No more costly software product updates, no more ‘freezing’ which seems to give tacit permission for children to start goofing about because they can’t wait mere seconds and instead must be entertained at all times. Think too, about the savings on utility bills for the school and just as we start to wonder about the cost of those replacement flipchart and whiteboard pens, we realise that there was a really eco-friendly version not so long ago called chalk. Woohoo!
The reality is that hardly anyone would choose to send their child to my tech-free, uber trad school. Most people want their children to be entertained constantly and they love the sights and sounds of children happily chatting away in class while they choose their high-tech activities and learn at their own pace. They can send their children to any of the thousands and thousands of schools across the country that provide that. My school, however, would require that parents commit to restricting their child’s access to tech in the home as part of the home-school contract. Yup, I would actually do that because I am sick to the back teeth of dealing with children who have spent the previous evening and every evening before that playing video games such that when they are in school, they are tired, fractious, think nothing of casual cruelty, have zero social skills, cannot concentrate or use their own minds for anything more than the most simple of computations and are incapable of waiting patiently while the books are handed out. They also know they are more than entitled to rage quit on everything from homework, to lessons to offers of friendship out on the playground when things don’t go their way. Even if SLT are supportive, it is far too easy for a parent to complain that the teacher hasn’t made the lesson interesting or easy enough for their child and therefore the child is justified in kicking off.
It’ll never happen, this tech-free school. I know. But I’ll still carry on dreaming….
Anyway, one of the best things my mum ever did for me was lock the TV away when I was about 7 and I never saw a screen again until I was 18. Overnight, the relationship between myself and my sister blossomed and strengthened as we had to create our own imaginary world as a form of entertainment. I also developed super powers of concentration as I poured over books, teaching myself all sorts of interesting knowledge. At school, I was suddenly needing to be promoted to the year group above me, and I began to overtake other students (we were all ranked). This would never have happened if my mother saw me glued to the TV screen that one time and decided to do nothing about it. I had the most amazing childhood even though we had no exotic holidays, fancy clothes or shiny new cars. In fact, we were really hard up and I’m surprised I managed to turn out so tall and healthy despite a diet of Supernoodles and Angel Delight. Myself and my sister really did have a proper, innocent childhood with real imaginary play (not the phony kind in EYFS settings) inspired by stories I had read and this is what I’d want for as many children as possible.
A tech-free school…..who’s with me?