3rd April 2020
When I was a child ‘the future’ was discussed with fascination and bold imagination. What would it look like and how different would our lives be? The pace of change in the 1960s was rapid and colourful and our dreams of the future echoed this pace.
I remember discussions about food following a taste of ‘space food’ from a foil packet. I had been given a sample of the type of foods moon landing astronauts had eaten in space. My memories are vague but I remember marvelling at the mysterious packaged food, fairly tasteless dry but light and crunchy and as I sat imagining rocket and spaceship travel to the moon the talk in the room was all about food: ‘This is how we will all be eating food in the future. Freeze dried or perhaps just in a small tablet, we won’t be sitting down to a meal around a table’.
We were completely wrong of course. Food did become ‘fast’ and in some case processed, available from plastic seated fast food outlets, or ready for use with the addition of boiling water but these types of food far from becoming the glamorous ‘way to dine’ became gently derided. Restaurant seating with china did not give way to cardboard box on the go as ‘the’ way to eat but instead they settled comfortably together to offer the choice that we know and enjoy today. Even though we can have ‘fast food’ it has never replaced the opportunity to sit, dine and share thoughts, tastes and experiences with our friends and family in an essential but, then unimaginable way.
We are sociable creatures. We enjoy company and debate. Just as people saw food as a basic necessity which could be nutritionally provided for individuals without need of company, so we have seen the internet as the ‘provider of all things’ in isolation without the need for human contact. Just as people back when I was young imagined flying cars replacing traffic jams and road travel, people today have imagined a cyber world in which we can happily survive on our own as long as we have a screen and some internet connection.
We are finding that we are still completely wrong. Today in ‘lockdown Britain’ where we are all facing unimaginable fear from the coronavirus pandemic, we should be happy. We still have our screens and our connection to the internet and this has proved to be a lifeline for some stuck in isolation completely alone, but what it has shown us all is how much we crave human contact. Living our lives inside our homes or talking to others with a 2m distance between us does not sit comfortably with human beings. We all now have a chance to reflect upon the small things which we have possibly taken for granted such as just how much warmth and happiness is passed on in a simple hug. The text to alert us to an evening out with a treasured friend or friendship group full of laughter, good food and wine has now become much longed for memory and although sharing laughter by text and email has been an invaluable source of entertainment it has not replaced it.
So to education. Why do we send children to a building called a ‘school’ when we have so much information at our fingertips on line? Surely with the advent of so many websites and sound bites and online tutorials the need for a ‘teacher’ and a class is outdated? Well again, thanks to the confines imposed upon us by the current pandemic we have had a chance to see what remote learning looks like. It was quite enjoyable at first. We settled down to our Timetables provided by the school and looked at these clever tasks able to be set online and marked remotely with teachers providing feedback and ways forward but it has quickly become hollow. Parents are frustrated understandably for we all know that teaching our own child is far more difficult than teaching the children of others. There is only so much that can be done online and these limitations include missing the rich and exciting delivery by an experienced teacher whilst responding to the observations and the collaborative responses from the class with children inspiring others and learning from the contributions from each other.
From my office, on a normal school day I would spend more time than I realised ‘listening’. Whilst working on my own or even with staff and parents, I could always ‘hear’ the school. Laughter, excitement, enthusiasm, time reminders, even behavioural reminders are all part of the pulse of the school and how I miss it all! The door bursting open with children ready to share joyful success or some amazing work requiring a Headteacher’s sticker for huge praise cannot be replaced by the ping of a box marked ‘feedback’. The children are missing and the school is too quiet. Whilst remote learning is required we will provide it and we will do so with as much skill and energy as possible but I especially cannot wait until this is over and to fill the school with the buzz of learning, discovery, energy and above all laughter.