Time presses on. You will have to read the Policy Paper.

Let me move extremely briefly on to the topic of Information and Communication Technology.

Just as we are undoubtedly on the brink of new understandings about learning, so too are we on the brink of radical developments in technology which are so fundamental that they hold the power to alter, not merely our education system, but also our work and our culture. At its roots, however, this technological revolution puts learning and conventional education systems on a collision course. The traditional role of education has, for too long, been predominantly instructional and teacher moderated, but the essence of the coming integrated, universal, multi- media, digital network is discovery – the empowerment of the human mind to learn spontaneously, without coercion, both independently and collaboratively.

The new technologies are really no longer new. It’s just that we have been so slow to see their real significance.

Two stories:

I started teaching geography in 1965. Plate tectonics, the creation of continents, was the hot subject of the time. For six weeks I shared my fascination with three separate classes of 17 year-olds. I covered many a blackboard with three dimensional diagrams, and my students spent hours copying all this out. I thought I’d done well until the BBC produced a two-hour documentary, “The Restless Earth”. I was stunned. Here was everything I had covered in 6 weeks, and much more.

I asked to buy a copy. “No way,” I was told, “it’s far too expensive.”

“But,” I argued, “if we bought a copy then in future years I could run my three classes together, cover all the topics far more quickly and go away and do something else.”

“My word, you are an angry young man!” responded the Head of Department, “Don’t you realize the system couldn’t cope.”

Eight years ago we bought a CD-ROM system for our home. One evening my middle son called me to the computer. “Dad, you’re interested in mountains. Look at these three video clips on the Encarta Encyclopedia. They’re all about how mountains are made.” He ran the program. A strange prickly sensation ran up my neck in a way similar to when I first saw “The Restless Earth.” Here was everything I had sweated for over 6 weeks reduced to four and half minutes of carefully contrived video material. “If you are all that interested, Dad, I could stop the program every ten seconds and give you 27 printouts. Is that what you need?”

A profound question. Is that what students need? The question is still unanswered…because we are so unsure about how young people learn.

A second story. Peter had been using a computer at home since he was eight. Coming up to his GCSE, his very caring teacher took him to one side and suggested that he should stop using the word processor and practice writing out his answers right the first time. “That is how you will be marked in the exam,” she said.

Later that evening a very annoyed, but articulate, son said, “Doesn’t anyone understand? It’s not simply that I write much faster with a keyboard; but I just don’t think in a straight line anymore. I’m always moving my ideas around as the argument develops.”

He grinned, “Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll still do okay, but the exam won’t show the best I can do. It’s really stupid. Now I know why you do the job you do, but it must be so depressing to see just how slowly things change!” Now, years later, and reading English at Cambridge, he is allowed to word-process essays for tutorials, but not in Finals. That has still to be written in long-hand.