This morning I heard something scary on the radio – something that made me stop and think. It wasn’t about a terrorist attack, or a horrible accident on the M25 or some celebrity going off the rails. They announced that long division was no longer being taught in schools.
It triggered a flood of bigger thoughts about education and how we as parents would fair when one day (and that day will come FAST) our little boy goes to school and needs help with his homework.
In a flash I remembered much of my own early education: carrying the one to the tens column, memorising multiplication tables, working out long division and not being allowed to use a calculator (although counting toes and fingers was allowed).
Then there was the physical aspect of education: using chalk boards, watching educational films on loud, spinning two-reeled film projectors (or ropey VHS tapes), acetates and grease pens on light table projectors beamed onto pull-down screens, writing out long essays by hand on ruled paper – often several times – before getting it all back with red ink and a mark out of 10. We did our presentations with glue, magazine clippings and on bristol board.
And technology? Well there was that one computer on a rolling table that belonged to the whole school. It needed a large floppy disk and a knowledge of DOS-shell commands to boot up, and it had a monitor that only displayed text in green. To use this computer, you needed good grades (or to be teacher’s pet).
My son will know none of that when he’s ready to go to school in a couple of years. So how will we parents fair trying to help him with his homework in this brave new world?
Analogue vs. digital
Our son is part of a generation of “digital natives”. Digital natives will expect screens (any screen) to interact with them by touch or by gesture. They will be able to access all of humanity’s knowledge and look up any piece of information they want instantly, most likely on a Google Glass style heads-up display that will sit in their field of vision. They will expect frictionless sharing of any content. They will have access to a 3D printer which can physically make almost anything they can imagine and design.
And that’s cool. Sort of.
Technology is wonderful, but in his early education and upbringing my worry is about the skills he may not be able to develop if he doesn’t at least keep one foot in the analogue world.
I’m talking about being able to calculate sums in one’s own head on the fly, leverage problem solving based on experience, play music on a real instrument, shape and craft raw materials, use balance and co-ordination, tap cognitive creativity, possess narrative writing skills and have people and leadership skills.
It seemed my education was a lot more physical, whereas his is going to occur “in the cloud”. My generation learned how to learn – to memorise, to process, to synthesise. How does that pay forward in a digital world?
Today there are a lot more self-learning tools available (and that is amazing), nevertheless I often wonder what shape classrooms, schools and libraries can take in a world where if you want to learn a skill or solve a problem, it’s all on YouTube…
Striking the right balance: real vs. virtual
Indeed long division might be dead. And perhaps so is wrapping text books in cling film and using chalk and floppy disks. And I’m fine with all of that.
Our job as parents is to teach our son that he should still take notes by hand on paper, but perhaps doodle his thoughts instead, as that will increase his ability to think creativity and combat ADHD (read more about that by clicking here). Our job is to make sure he plays in the real world, not just on an Xbox. Our job is to make sure he knows that face to face contact with other humans is still much better than social networks.
Our job is to show him life outside the screen.
The function of institutional education has changed. And so will homework. Our duty as parents is not to know long division or algebra or dust off old calculus notes in the attic. YouTube can handle that now – for both parent and child.
My message to my son will always be: It’s what you know, AND who you know. The two are not mutually exclusive. So know both, well. Know how things work, but also know the people who will become movers and shakers.
I hope my wife and I can get 10/10 on this assignment.