Telling a new story.

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98/365 by tim caynes @ Flickr

Oh, how the media do spin things! Teachers want ‘four-day week’ screams the headline from first of all the Daily Mail and then, more unexpectedly, the Daily Telegraph. Those within the profession know that this is, of course, nothing like the reality – and this is indeed revealed in the second paragraph of the Telegraph article (in the actual newspaper):

[Teachers] want the equivalent of a four-day teaching week to free up more time to mark and prepare children’s work.

How on earth can that be a bad thing? And notice that little word that was omitted from the headline? ‘Teaching’. We want to not teach so much in order that we can spend more time preparing high-quality lessons and have time to assess work properly. We don’t want a ‘four-day week’; we just want the proportion of time we spend in school to be allocated differently.

This, of course, highlights the problem facing anybody or group of people who want to change education in any real sense:  the nature of the conservative media. Whilst happy to bemoan declining standards in schools and the ‘factory’ nature of the state system, anything which might lead to progress is attacked as ‘unworkable’, ‘expensive’, or ‘dangerous’.

Take another piece of ‘research’ that also appears in today’s Daily Telegraph under the headline Facebook students ‘underachieve’ (I quote this in full):

Students who spend their time on Facebook are underachieving in exams, research suggests.

A study by Ohio State University has found that students who spend their time on the social networking website may devote as little as one hour per week to their academic work. It found that 65 per cent of Facebook users accessed their account daily, usually checking it several times to see if they had received new messages.

However, students who used Facebook had a “significantly” lower grade point average – the US marking system – than those who did not use the site.

On the face of it, a factual report and one that could be used to bolster stances taken by parents and those generally of a more reactionary nature during dinner party-table discussions. Looking at the Ohio State University’s overview of the study, the tentative nature of the conclusions become apparent:

The researchers surveyed 219 students at Ohio State, including 102 undergraduate students and 117 graduate students.  Of the participants, 148 said they had a Facebook account.

The study found that 85 percent of undergraduates were Facebook users, while only 52 percent of graduate students had accounts.

Karpinski emphasized that the results don’t necessarily mean that Facebook use leads to lower grades.

“There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades,” she said.

“It may be that if it wasn’t for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying, and would still get lower grades.  But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online.”

Now that paints a fuller picture, doesn’t it? And what about the potential benefits? What about the fact that many more undergraduates are using it than graduates? What about harnessing the potential of a space students are already spending much of their time?

And then comes the darling of the middle classes, the neuroscientist who’s never scared to tell us that new equals bad. Professor Susan Greenfield is against computer games, social networking, and now the teaching of things like Twitter to Primary school children. It’s hard to feel that she’s not somewhat out of touch and setting up ‘straw man’ arguments:

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying games. But don’t you think it’s strange that people are engaging in activities that have no purpose? Spending their precious time and money sitting in front of a screen in a make-believe world when they could be out there having love affairs and doing things in the real world?

“And that’s what worries me. That we are rearing a generation of kids that are in danger of becoming emotionally stunted, inarticulate, hedonists with the attention span of a gnat. Because they spend the majority of their time in front of a computer screen. A whole generation that can’t interact because their skills are limited to inhabiting a fantasy world on a screen.”

Never mind that ways of communicating change and evolve, that she’s as inarticulate in that world as she’s claiming the gamers to be in hers.

I think we need to tell a new story. A story about how technology can be used to bring people together. A story about realistic 21st century education. A story based on experts deciding upon and then implementing what’s best for children. A story, I suppose, not told by journalists in the traditional media.

2 Comments

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  1. True. True.

    The thing is, to my mind at least, is that this move is long overdue. Promotion in schools can equate to less working hours because your time is not tied up teaching lessons and therefore not directly accountable.

    However, the best teachers are often those with the most lessons because they are new and inspired and motivated. They teach a high proportion of the timetabled day and need fast resources to plan quickly and effectively. I spoke to a senior teacher not-so-long ago (not at my school) who considered himself a manager, not a teacher. Not a good scenario.

    Two things I think here. The UK education system is not set up to allow the frontline teacher to do their jobs properly. This is why the media filter shows teachers to need their holidays,or with too much work to do and negotiating workload. If we, as a country, want teachers to take their jobs seriously without paying them serious money, then providing more time to plan, prepare and mark would be a good start.

    However, there are many examples of teachers leaving shool soon after the pupils when the final bell rings. This should also be changed. Expectations should be that teachers finish at a specified time unless under specific agreement from the Headteacher due to childcare, flexitime or working from home.

    It is surely not coincidence that very talented people are recruited into teaching and leave shortly after completing a year or two. The workload needs spreading.

    How about reducing the number of school holidays to spread the load?

    • We don’t need less holidays, Dai, and we *certainly* don’t need directed time. You say that you see ‘teachers leaving school soon after the pupils when the final bell rings’. Well, that’s me a couple of days a week. Why? I have to pick my son up from nursery and I’ve been there since 7.30am. But most of my colleagues – and certainly parents – don’t know that.

      In addition, no-one but my family and friends know of the work I do at weekends and during the holidays. I’m sure many teachers are the same. This is all part of the ‘new story’ we need to be telling. Not jokingly saying how we’re only in teaching for the holidays, but making the general population how hard we work and how difficult it is not having enough hours in the day – never mind the *working* day – to get everything done.

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