29 December 2012

On IT skills

I've just had an irritating evening. Both my sons decided they needed to avail themselves of Dad's Back-office Services (TM) to create some quotes and invoices. Thar's OK, up to a point, but what annoys me is that they don't have the content worked out clearly and expect me to sit there while they leaf through suppliers' catalogues deciding what mark-up they can get away with on various materials. If I were being paid by my time (or at all) I wouldn't mind so much...

OK--I was a teacher. Why do I not teach them to do these invoices themselves? I have done. Very badly. Last time I was working away from home for a few days, S. let them loose on my laptop to do the paperwork for themselves. She complained that they were up in the study for most of the evening, "helping" each other, generated piles of scrap paper--and littering my hard drive with unlabelled files just dropped in whatever folder I had last used.

R. has some excuse. He's now in his mid-forties, and all this stuff never featured in his formal education, and he has never owned a computer, so although I get irritated with his failure even to make a note of his customers' surnames or postcodes, I don't expect him to handle file-management or version control or even typing beyond painful hunt-and-peck level.

But CJ is younger, and computers have been round in his life since I got my first (Amstrad 8256) when he was five years old, and he got a Sinclair Spectrum + 2 at six or seven, before being led astray by games consoles a year or two later.  IT (not yet ICT) featured--rather falteringly, granted--in his primary school education and was routine at high school from 1994 onwards...

I'm not just ranting about his lack of skill, though. He is clearly accomplished in many tasks--ICT is after all not just one thing. His gaming skills may be a little rusty, but they are still accessible. He can do all kinds of things on his smartphone that I don't even understand. It's just that he uses a word-processor when he should use a spreadsheet--we're not yet anywhere near an accounts package...

In fact, he's very accomplished at all the things he has never been taught. I'd go further and hypothesise that in real-world ICT practice there is an inverse correlation between the skill level achieved by learners and the amount of formal teaching they receive. The speed at which I see adolescents texting in the street or on the bus amazes me. I'm sure that any efforts to incorporate social media into a formal curriculum would only hinder, slow or even halt its expansion and user base.

In part, then, I am for once inclined to applaud Michael Gove's recognition of the inadequacies of the current national ICT curriculum.

A clear disconnection has developed between curriculum aspirations and outcomes, parallel to the divergence in the late '50s and early '60s between formal and informal curricula in music. In secondary school, my classmates and I--very mildly by current standards-- subverted formal music lessons and affected to despise them. It was an attitude reciprocated by our teachers, who referred to popular musicians as three-chord wonders. Nevertheless one of my friends--while affecting the same disdain as the rest of us for "music appreciation"--was practicing for countless hours to master all 88 tracks of Django Reinhardt's solos in his LP collection, and he was not alone.*

As Illich put it:
A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives (Illich, 1970:12)

...and I had a J R Hartley moment: R had told his girlfriend about how he is credited in the acknowledgements of one of my books--had I a copy to spare? No, but--it's on Amazon, for £0.01. (+ £2.80 p&p!) withdrawn from library stock somewhere. Not a boost to my literary ego, but a reasonable present!

*  He has no direct web presence, but search for him and get countless references to professional musicians who "studied under David Taplin at the University of Huddersfield".

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