My daughter came home from her Sheffield junior school this week with some homework based on Roman numerals, something I sat down and worked through with her.
She’d been introduced to the idea of the ancient counting method earlier in the week and had forgotten what one of the letters stood for.
My own knowledge of 2,000-year-old numeric symbols was a little rusty and so I did what any parent would do in that situation and looked it up on my phone.
That moment got me thinking about what we teach our children in schools, and how the much-lauded national curriculum is not fit for the 21st Century.
It’s 2019 and the answer to everything is in my pocket.
It’s in your pocket, and it’s in the pocket of every school pupil who has a smart phone.
And yet we were working through Roman numeral puzzles because – unbelievably – our children need to know them to complete their SATs papers in Year 6.
That’s right, on the government’s official test at the end of junior school there are questions in Roman numerals and precisely nothing that involves use of ICT.
This bias towards the archaic over the modern has been reflected in homework since she started school.
Rarely has there been a task which involved the Internet, use of an App or even the design of a PowerPoint.
It’s been photocopied worksheets, tasks in a booklet and copies from textbooks.
We’re missing a trick because we’re not making the most of technology to make learning engaging, let alone preparing our children for a digital age.
In the secondary school I teach in, there is a little more progression in terms of the use of modern technology.
Homework set for kids is displayed in a mobile phone App and tasks set in various subjects include online tests, and web-based research.
But the message we’re passing on to kids in school is that phones are bad; they’re taken off students if they’re seen in many schools and locked away until the end of the day.
I only know one secondary school where the use of phones is truly encouraged and teachers are urged to use them as a learning tool to enhance experience in the classroom.
The message given by schools and the government is we need to create a generation that can compete on a world stage when it comes to the very latest technology.
Sadly, the budget is not there to make this happen; computers are not available in every classroom and the number of functioning machines in our school is becoming a real issue as money is squeezed and time makes recent purchases obsolete.
But here’s the crazy thing – most students at secondary school bring their own powerful internet-enabled device to school!
If we used these more effectively and encouraged sensible use, it could save money and boost levels of learning.
Rather than embracing change and striving for a new way of doing things, there is too much resistance in our education system – resistance to allowing phones out, to using the web, to scrapping traditional topics.
And so we have to continue putting an emphasis on things that are so irrelevant to so many kids.
Headteachers obsessed with Ebacc figures force students to take one language at GCSE, irrespective of whether they are good at languages, their future career choice and the fact that Google Translate could well make the option obsolete in the near future.
A humanities subject is also insisted upon to hit Ebacc targets, but very few children leave school enabled to create their own Apps, design websites and display a significant knowledge of computer coding.
The government needs to address the issue and ensure that there is curriculum time and resources given to the subjects which will address the workplace skills shortage in hi-tech industries.
Push the Roman numerals back in the filing cabinet and bring out the Python and Java Script.