FORUM - ISSN 0963-8253
Volume 47 Number 1 (2005)

pages 1-1
DOI: 10.2304/forum.2005.47.1.1


By and large, the technical aspects of teaching have not figured largely amongst the principal concerns of FORUM writers or readers. From line making with sticks in the sand, to chalk on slate, wax crayon on paper and the electronic bells and whistles of the present day whiteboards, mark making and meaning have been an assumed given with its advantages and drawbacks. ICT has speeded up many processes and opened up new possibilities but none pose basic questions about education or human values such as truth, compassion, tolerance or fairness. Nor is it expected that they should: we use our tools as we will and if they serve our purposes in helping to ask such questions or encouraging our children to ask such questions, so much the better. The creative and imaginative uses of ICT, particularly and appropriately for older children, can be most impressive.

This is the point where educationists may take their eye off the ball, however; in welcoming, adapting and using new technologies to serve the interests of educating their children, the increasing administrative use of ICT is just seen as an additional onerous chore. Specious data collection is resented as time wasting on the part of teacher and pupil alike, the repeated testing which generates much of the data being known to have a downward spiral effect on motivation, particularly on groups of their vulnerable pupils such as those with low self esteem.

Teachers grit their teeth though, deliver the data and try to turn to more constructive uses of their time but it is essential that this side of ICT is seen as becoming more and more dangerously influential in shaping what actually happens in schools. Electronic technology is becoming the engine that drives the curriculum. Learning becomes performance. It doesn't ask the big questions, because in its 21st century version of Gradgrind's approach to 'education', there are none to be asked. It can only ask the little questions that can have numbers attached, but it asks them loudly and insistently until they sound important.

To those in the present Government to whom micro-management is seemingly the ultimate and unquestioned goal, it is presenting a level of unprecedented control that should be creating increasingly deep unease amongst all educators, to say nothing of all citizens. Only pre-World War II Germany and Soviet Russia have seen bureacratisation refined to such an exquisite degree.

Thus it is that Tony Blair can promise 'greater dialogue with parents and to address the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the individual in a more customised fashion'. (Guardian, March 3, 2005). This is not just vote-grabbing. His civil servants have told him that schools and teachers now collect, indeed have to collect, sufficient computerised data on each pupil, primary and secondary, so that this 'customisation' is now possible. Children and teachers are now effectively electronically tagged. It can tell us that Darren is still confused about colons and semi-colons but it will never be able to tell us that he knows the names and ways of all the fresh water fish in the rivers around South London. Saheel may be failing on her grasp of clause analysis but tests say nothing about her exquisite Arabic calligraphy. Subsequently parents are to be encouraged to think that the trivial is all that matters; it must be important, we have the print out. Would that it stopped there though.

Another side to this control now offered by electronic devices over school children's lives is no longer the stuff of over-heated imaginations. Many larger secondary schools use swipe cards for registration, dinners, etc. but a recent technology conference by the Specialist Schools Trust (Times Educational Supplement, March 4 2005) was informed about a device, up to now used by industry, called radio frequency identification (RFID). The potential for monitoring practically every aspect of a child's, and indeed teacher's life, is quite breathtaking and creditably it was suggested by the managing director of one of the leading multinational networking companies, Bill Fowler, that schools actually need to grapple with the ethics of this potential before they use it. Ah, yes, ethics - a dimension that does not appear to have occurred to the Government in the similar contexts mentioned above. But perhaps in the area they are wont, and indeed have a fondness for, calling 'blue-sky thinking' they already have their sights on the ultimate solution. Where America leads it has not gone unnoticed that Tony Blair is unaccountably, quite pathetically even, drawn to follow. A solution by an American company, Applied Digital Solutions, (already given approval in the USA) is to insert such a radio controlled device, the size of a grain of rice, under the skin of every pupil. Sounds outrageous? So did league tables once....

Annabelle Dixon

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To cite this article
(2005) Editorial, FORUM, 47(1), 1-1. https://doi.org/10.2304/forum.2005.47.1.1

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