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Communities offline more important


By Gerald Ford

Education seems to be a bit of a battleground at the moment.

The announcement by Education minister Hekia Parata of introducing replacements for schools known as Cools (Communities of online learning) has certainly got people talking.

I remember at school reading a science fiction story set in a future where students were taught by a computer teacher at home, and one of them found a “real book”, which led to them learning all about the ancient past, school as you or I know it.

After learning about the real schools and playgrounds of the olden days the story’s heroes, a brother and sister, thought wistfully about our good old days and “the fun they had”.

The sterile, computerised future portrayed in that story seemed a long way off, then. Now, it may be just around the corner.

In fact for some people it is already here, as children and teenagers spend their non-school hours staring at various screens.

With so much screen-time already, would an online education take away a very necessary source of real world activity and interaction?

I worry about the online world stealing real life away from our children.

But I also worry about how a lack of expertise in the online world could affect their chances of employment in the real world.

How do parents find the balance? How do schools? And where do smartphones and other devices fit in?

I think a major part of school life is about learning to socialise.

Without that component, there seems to be something missing from an educative environment, just as chatting online is no substitute for an in-person conversation.

School also provides a great opportunity to participate in team sports, which mix physical and social wellbeing.

Our teachers and education policy makers have a big responsibility, as do those of us who are parents, to model and teach to children how to interact with the world and find their place in it.

The more real and the less virtual those interactions are, the more grounded our kids will grow up to be.

I hope physical schools and physical books last for a long time to come.

I hope computers continue to be the servants of education, and not the drivers of it.

There may be some circumstances where it could be necessary or could work on a part-time basis, but in general I just don’t like the idea of a school without a building.

When I was a kid, Olly Olsen told us to “keep cool till after school”.

Maybe someone should tell the Government.

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