Tuesday 25 June 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'A hard tablet for parents to swallow'


'Can anyone truthfully say that by denying schoolchildren touchscreens in class, we are preparing them for this certainty?' Stock Image
'Can anyone truthfully say that by denying schoolchildren touchscreens in class, we are preparing them for this certainty?' Stock Image
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

The best parents know their own mind and those who signed a petition last week seeking a review of the iPad-only policy at a secondary school seem to have theirs made up.

This has been rumbling in Ratoath, Co Meath, for a while. These mums and dads are fully charged. And who isn't worried about the scary pace of digitisation, endless invasions of privacy and access to all kinds of everything on the web? When it comes to our children, that unease is only magnified.

But imagining you can turn back the clock and return to a halcyon age of innocence and safety (which really never existed, of course) by banning the 21st century in our classrooms is miscued and delusionary.

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There are endless historical examples of grown-ups who worried about how the world their children would inherit was falling into dystopian disrepair.

In recent centuries that has included the invention of bicycles (yes, really) radio and, of course, television.

Grumpy Greek Plato gave out that 'children love chatter in place of exercise'. Sound familiar?

Enough about the past. Think 10 or 20 years hence. Does anyone realistically believe that today's teenagers will not be totally immersed and embedded in a digital reality in ways we can scarcely imagine? Can anyone truthfully say that by denying schoolchildren touchscreens in class, we are preparing them for this certainty? Parents, teachers and society have to learn ways of coping with the digital revolution and education is key. The school's role, after all, is to prepare students for the world, not pretend it isn't out there.

It's not as if these classroom iPads will even have to be online much of the time, or that there aren't myriad ways of safeguarding content. They won't be plunging into the dark web between classes.

There are practical positives too. Instead of expensive new books every other year, software can simply be updated, while the two-stone schoolbag will become a historical curiosity. Fretting parents need to start trusting the future a bit more, and their children too. They won't be thanked if they don't.

Braving the storm of a gloomy conversationalist

The weather is the topic namechecked when people have nothing else to say to each other. It melts the ice and fills in dead space during strained conversations.

While such disposable natter is often intended as a camouflage, a way of getting through the chores of social politeness without saying much, it can also unwittingly unmask a great deal. I have previously found myself wedged into the corner of a crowded room, nursing a tepid glass of white wine and introducing myself to a woman who seemed as lost as I was.

It was the weather we chose as our conversational demilitarised zone - safe territory for polite social intercourse - before either one of us could mumble suitable excuses and move on.

I made some chirpy noises, about how we needed the rain and the summer hadn't had a chance to settle yet.

But she wasn't buying it. No, she said with scary emphasis, this summer was a washout. Worst ever. She didn't go as far as blaming the Government, but I could see she was tempted.

It was as if the rain and chill was sent to discommode her particularly; that it was personal, another cross for her to carry, and she obviously had many.

I found a gap between her downpours, made my excuses and took shelter in more amenable company.

Here was someone who, having sapped the joy out of her own life, was now skilled at sucking it from everybody else. I barely got out alive.

Let's hope a crack of sunlight peeps into her life soon before she can deny anyone else their fair share, truly.

Irish Independent

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