Great news for the UK – another BBC repeat

When I visited a secondary school last week and asked about how much work they do with computers, I was disappointed with the replies. All students up to Year 11 (aged 11-16) do several hours a week, but it is limited to using applications – creating posters, monitoring costs, writing newspaper articles. They use computers, but they don’t do any programming at all.

I was even a little surprised to hear that all pupils are taught how to type, since I would have expected that by the age of 11 most, if not all, would have proficient typing skills.

But only the next day Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC made a major announcement which is set to change all this.

BBC_Plans to get the nation coding Continue reading

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Early influences start (really) early

It is staggering to think how many of the decisions we take are influenced by events early in our lives. I’m not thinking of those biological, pre-birth influences such as diet, activity levels and audio-stimulus. I’m rather thinking of the post-toddler childhood and early school years – a phase rich in external influences and events which captivate, excite, motivate, engage, enthuse – or the reverse.

It’s not difficult to see where those influences come from. We tend to engage more readily with other people who are having fun and enjoying life, so we subconsciously respond to their cues on what is fun and enjoyable, further reinforcing and perpetuating the messages. Young children are surrounded by others of a similar age, and it doesn’t take long for a new playground “craze”, for example, to sweep through schools as children convince each other how fun and exciting it is. The young influencers spread the word quickly as friends redefine what is fun or “cool” to do in the playground – until it is replaced by a new definition from a different source. And there are plenty of potential sources, from role-model super-heroes (real or imaginary) to cleverly-marketed ideas from the professionals.

It is noticeable how narrow the range of role-models is for these young children. The “real” variety tend to be high-profile celebrities (always in the news, and frequently a topic of conversation for parents); sportsmen (footballers are a common favourite); popstars or dancers; or sometimes children’s television presenters.

An obvious attraction of these role-models for young people is that it’s easy to see what they actually “do” – they appear on the television or in shiny magazines; they play football; they sing or dance; they present funny or interesting things on the television. Most of these things are easily identifiable to even young children. Money is unlikely to be a motivator at this early age; the ease with which they can be identified, and the sense of fun is more likely to be the motivator.

There are pockets of special cases – the vet who cures a sick family pet; the kind baker who always pulls a coin from inside a child’s ear; the hairdresser who always gives a lolly after a haircut – people who somehow make a mark on a child for some reason, and for a while they unwittingly guide a child in the direction of that particular profession. These special cases are generally fewer and further apart than the earlier high-profile examples, and they don’t create as lasting an effect.

How many parents talk to their young children about their own profession; about what they do at work every day? Is it any wonder that children grow up wanting to be footballers, pop-stars or celebrities rather than accountants, solicitors, scientists or consultants? Isn’t it time we started to excite our own children about what we do? Not as encouragement to do the same, but just so that they understand the range of choices open to them. London 2012 has created a new group of Olympians who will undoubtedly inspire and encourage many to start a new sport. There are occasionally huge news stories which create an interest in a new field and inspire a generation – Man landing on the Moon; Curiosity landing on Mars; the development of Concorde; invention of wireless telegraphy. But we could do so much more to inspire the youth of today by looking around us now and engaging with them, rather than waiting for world events to do it for us.

The examples I used above were natural for me to choose – based on science and technology, they were early influences in my life. The Vietnam War; The Arab-Israeli Conflict; The Suez Crisis could just as easily have inspired me but I had already made subconscious decisions earlier in my life, and those major world events didn’t interest me.

For me, it could have all been so different (not necessarily better or worse, but different) had I been exposed to different influences. I might still have made the same life choices in the end, but I might have done that whilst being better informed. And being better informed is probably a good thing.

 

Inspiring teachers…

Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans

Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

… worth their weight in moon dust.

For me as a child, learning history was dull.  It wasn’t just me – I don’t remember any of us actually “enjoying” it.  It certainly wasn’t as exciting as science, or as interesting as French.  It was just dates and facts which had to be learned. Dull dull dull.  Looking back at that time as a pupil, I can reliably say that the only thing I learned about history was that it was boring.

But my interest in history has taken a turn for the better in recent months, with the discovery of Horrible Histories.  It hasn’t transformed me into a history-fanatic, but it has generated a degree of enthusiasm and interest which had previously eluded me.

Very heavy coverage by the BBC, with regular repeats at child-friendly times have helped create a buzz which has alerted my children to a subject which was so uninteresting for me, that I would have struggled to rouse even the slightest interest in them.  And it is quite obvious how this has happened… the history is presented in a way which is exciting, accessible and really interesting to children.  It’s not all about dates – it’s mostly about gory detail.  The books are written by Terry Deary, Peter Hepplewhite and Neil Tonge and cover every period in history in an appealing, easily digestible way.

There’s a lovely quote from Terry Deary: “If I had it my way, I wouldn’t have schools at all. They don’t educate, they just keep kids off the streets.  But my books educate, because they prepare kids for life.”  The combination of great source material (the books), the dramatisation, and the scheduling create a fabulously inspiring learning experience for children.  And the result is that there cannot be a child anywhere in the UK who doesn’t know the fate of each of Henry VIII’s six wives, something which could not have been said 40 years ago.

Anyone who has ever experienced the power of an inspiring teacher will recognise how potentially life-changing it can be.  Sadly not all teachers are so endowed.  I wonder how dramatically the lives of our children could be changed if only we could harness the skills of inspiring people, and channel them towards receptive ears.  What a difference that could make.

Thursday 26th April 2012 – a special day

If you live in the US, today is a special day for sons and daughters…

What a brilliant initiative!  Check the link: www.daughtersandsonstowork.org/

Of course, it’s only one day so all those lucky sons and daughters won’t get the widest of experiences but it’s a brilliant idea nevertheless.

There will doubtless be plenty of people who will resent the idea of “kids” coming into their workplace and distracting them.  But there will also be plenty of people who find themselves to be naturally inspiring and who will encourage young talent.  Even if that sometimes results in the sons and daughters changing their understanding of what work is all about, then that’s a good thing.  We all like to make informed choices and we want our children to have that opportunity too.  This looks like a great initiative!