Back in Time for School – BBC 2 (final episode)

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I’m going to sound like a grumpy old dinosaur here, but I found parts of this episode extremely annoying.  Traditional teaching methods were summarily dismissed as being “far from inspirational”.  What an insult to generations of hard-working teachers!  Instead, apparently, pupils need virtual reality simulators, to enable them to form an “emotional connection” with Second World War fighter pilots.  Is no-one encouraged to use their imagination any more?  And who’s supposed to pay for all these things?!  Also, they need to be educated in a “non-threatening way” to eat cinnamon.  Since when was cinnamon threatening?   And PE lessons need to be like Pokemon Go challenges – well, that’d certainly be better than hockey or netball, but it’s hardly very practical.  The kids and most of the teachers have been great throughout this series, and made some very interesting points during this episode, but the BBC is just so obsessed with pushing its own agenda.  Oh, and, apparently, the reason I’m too fat is not my fault.  It’s Maggie Thatcher’s.  So there!  It did get better towards the end of the episode, though!

The episode started with Sara Cox saying that the kids should all be doing brilliantly in history lessons, now that they’ve lived through it all.  OK, OK, it was only a joke, but it still got on my nerves!  Could we get past this idea that history lessons all need to be about the 20th century, please?  Then into all this idea that lessons in which teachers do the talking are bad.  No discussion – just the BBC saying so.  This series has continually pushed the idea that all kids want to stand up in front of the class and speak out all the time.  No.  They do not.  And, quite frankly, it used to get very annoying when teachers did let certain kids – and it was always the same teachers, and the same kids! – talk about their experiences and opinions all the way through the lesson, and we didn’t actually learn anything!   Everything in moderation 🙂 .

The idea of this episode was to look at ideas for how schools might develop in the future, but apparently some schools have already got these virtual reality things.  The example here involved video coverage of fighter jets in 1943 being turned into some sort of computer simulation thing.  I was just waiting for Marty McFly and Bill and Ted to turn up, because, apparently, kids are unable to understand history unless they can feel that they’ve actually lived through the past.  It’s the only way they can form an “emotional connection”.  What??  There’s certainly room for watching videos in class, although maybe more so in geography and RS lessons than history lessons – although my A-level group did have great fun watching the Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes film about Lady Jane Grey – and I can see how these computer games would be fun, but you don’t need IT to be able to understand things.   Apparently, the VR simulator enabled the kids to understand that fighter pilots might have been scared.  Well, could they not have worked that out anyway?!

And how much must these things cost?  This series has continually pushed the use of IT in schools.  This episode again went on about robots in schools in the 1980s.  We did not have robots in schools in the 1980s, OK!   And, yes, of course IT’s important, but the Department of Education has not got a money tree!   See, I said I was being grumpy!  But most of my textbooks at school – used by teachers, who, yes, actually talked to the class! –  were years, even decades, old.  Who’s going to fund all this technology?!

Next up, food!   This involved a session in which kids were blindfolded and put pegs on their noses so they had no idea what they were eating, and tried different things.  I would actually hate that, because I won’t eat anything unless I know what it is, but I can see how that would be fun.  I keep using the word “fun”, but the BBC does seem to think that education should be all about making lessons “fun”!   The idea was to encourage people to expand their tastes in food.  Yes, that sounded great – but the BBC then had to turn it into yet another excuse to have a go at the governments of the 1980s and early 1990s.  The reason that so many people in the UK are overweight is apparently all because school dinners in the ’80s and early ’90s were unhealthy.  Seriously?!

I’m just going to have a brief rant here about food prices!  It was my birthday on Monday, so I was supposed to take cakes into the office.  I considered taking in some fruit as well.  However, a punnet of seven (seven!) strawberries costs £3 in Tesco.  For £3, I could get eight chocolate eclairs.  OK, February is not the best of times for buying fruit, but even so.  Maybe everyone would eat more healthily if healthy food wasn’t so expensive./rant

Anyway.  People’s food choices are governed by many things.  What they used to get for school dinners are not generally amongst them.

Then on to PE.  One kid observed that PE lessons are “just for fun”.  You get that attitude in Girls’ Own books, where PE lessons are regarded as being all jolly hockey sticks, as opposed to academic lessons.  Maybe if you’re slim and fit and sporty.  Not if, as I was, you’re fat and useless and completely self-conscious!   The “futuristic” idea in this was for kids to run round town/city centres, navigating on their smartphones, and touching in at certain points, a bit like Pokemon Go.  I certainly think that would appeal more than hockey and netball and so on, but not everyone’s got a state of the art smartphone, and there’d always be issues with kids whom other kids didn’t want on their teams.  And, again sounding old and grumpy, I’m not sure that having groups of kids running round town would really work for everyone else!  But it was an interesting idea.

Then some talk about gender stereotyping.  The boys in this have been really good about talking about equality.  OK, they probably daren’t say anything else, when it’s being filmed, but most of the boys I knew at school were horrendously sexist!!   Hopefully they’ve all grown out of that now 🙂 .

Next came the ongoing issue of to what extent education should be geared towards equipping children for the workplace.  This is a very interesting and important area, and it’s hard to find an answer to it – but the BBC has continually criticised traditional academic education and praised vocational education, rather than trying to present a balanced view.  They did that again here, when talking about the idea of University Technical Colleges – but most of the pupils and teachers actually disagreed, saying that specialising too early could present a lot of problems.  It’s very difficult.  Employers keep saying that schools and universities are not equipping children with the appropriate skills for the workplace, but at what point do you make career choices?  And shouldn’t education be about more than looking towards the world of work?  But then everyone needs to earn their living, and workplaces need people who have the appropriate skills.  Every generation grapples with this issue, and this series has done a good job of showing that.

Finally came the idea of lessons being taught by Artificial Intelligence, with each child having a computer which tailored lessons to their individual needs, fed back a load of data to the teacher, and even monitored kids’ facial expressions and then generated algorithms to adapt the work accordingly!   My first reaction was that this was ridiculous, but then I thought that, hey, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.  A fundamental problem with education is that every child is different and there is no curriculum or teaching method that’s going to get the best out of everyone, and no way that a teacher can give their full attention to each of thirty or so pupils at once.  I think it’d be a bit weird, though.  You’d end up feeling completely detached.  Neither the kids nor the teachers were that keen.

The series finished with the children saying that it had made them feel grateful for the opportunities they’d been given, and the teachers saying that it had helped the children to bond, which was lovely.  It would have been much better had the BBC not tried so hard to politicise it, but it’s still been a great series, and I’ve enjoyed watching it.

6 thoughts on “Back in Time for School – BBC 2 (final episode)

  1. mrsredboots

    Be fair – Tesco had a huge bag of oranges for 79p today! Strawberries are not in season at this time of year, so of course they are expensive – and tasteless. But I do agree, the mainstream supermarkets do make it cheaper to make more unhealthy food choices than healthy ones. I except Lidl, which has at least 4 fruit and vegetables on special offer each week.

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      • mrsredboots

        Grapes! They are just beginning to come in from South Africa or somewhere, and Lidl, at least, has them on special offer this week.

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      • Strawberries seem to come from Morocco and Egypt at this time of year, but they’re stupidly expensive! I’m sure that, in the age of technology, there should be ways round it all 🙂 .

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  2. Chris Deeley

    I think the UK should try to grow more fruit in hothouses. The Lee Valley north of London used to have lots of glasshouses for growing out-of-season fruit and veggies. On another matter – I’ve just returned from overseas. While I was away, was there any interesting commentary on the Oscars that I missed?

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    • Tesco were supposed to be trying growing strawberries in hothouses, but it never seemed to happen. The verdict on the Oscars seemed to be that Roma should have won best film, but didn’t because it was made by Netflix and Hollywood doesn’t like Netflix. I haven’t seen it so can’t really comment!

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