of the birch and the blackboard

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As Storm Katie departs for pastures new, I’m left feeling more chilled-to-the-bone than soaked-to-the-skin. Nothing to do with the weather though, much more with the fact that I found myself agreeing with, not only a Daily Mail journalist, but the erstwhile partner of Michael Gove to boot. Yep, a cold day in hell if ever there was going to be one is when I caught myself nodding in agreement with Sarah Vine’s usually poisonous column.

In short, Ms Vine was commenting on the fact that childhood is on the wane and its demise is being further heightened by the increased pervasiveness of today’s technology. Her argument is that from the moment a child gets their grubby mitts on a smartphone of their very own, the end is nigh. Classroom feuds are escalated to the level of international crisis, playground spats solved only by military intervention, fallings-out necessitating nothing less than a to-the-death confrontation with daggers drawn.

My knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss this with a ‘as was always the case’ but then I cottoned-on to the fact that it wasn’t the gossip, the politik or the argument but the ubiquitous use of smartphone technology that was escalating this to an uncontrolled, and uncontrollable, level within the mind-set of the child. The issue is the speed of transfer and the importance that social media confers on the participants. At the risk of giving my considerable age away, it simply wasn’t like this when I was growing up and thank heavens for that. I’m pretty sure that these days there’ll be a ‘Trolls against Loud-Mouthed Ginga Midgets’ FB group out there somewhere just waiting for me to pop my head above the parapet.

Perhaps most worryingly this all takes place at school. Again, I’m fortunate to be able to look back at these halcyon ‘best days of your life’ with rosy-tinted glasses but I’m concerned technology is increasingly becoming a malevolent force within our hallowed halls of learning. Contrary to the misconception that smartphones & iPads aid the learning & development process, the calls for the banning of mobiles in school are falling upon deaf ears and in any event, that particular genie is well and truly out of the lamp.

Looking for any logical validation of such a stance is somewhat unnecessary – it’s like the NRA asking Congress to prove that firearms should not be allowed at school as armed-students would be better able to defend themselves. The impact of mobiles in school is well-known and accepted – improved exam results, more attentive students and a far more inclusive teaching experience – and the impact of social media in school-age children can be best witnessed by the fact that ChildLine is currently overwhelmed by victims of cyberbullying. Sadly, mobiles in school are here to stay. The bigger genie is that we’ve forgotten our duty to set the boundaries that we, as responsible adults, should be setting.