What most people seem not to have noticed is that there's another kind of obesity, a sort of 'mental obesity' which may be causing as much harm to the nation's health -- its mental and intellectual health.
Compare these two
Or is the answer that fuddy duddies like me have no right to say what's good for the new generation?
Maybe there are too many forces for us to oppose, so that change will not happen until after some revolution-provoking disaster like escalation of global warming and/or drying up of major natural resources.
But perhaps there is some hope: if the problem is recognised. An example of a change that might move in the right direction: make sure that school children, especially the brightest school children, are NOT introduced to computers with widely used highly packaged operating systems and utilities. Instead go back to an updated version of the BBC micro (see the fascinating new MIT initiative http://pedia.media.mit.edu/wiki/One_Laptop_per_Child though I worry about the constraints of flash memory) and teach them
Restrict them to using relatively simple text editors and document formatters.
- to program,
- to build simulations (using a wide range of libraries that make it unnecessary always to start from a primitive 'machine' level),
- to build and then extend chatbots and various kinds of adventure games,
- to analyse, explain, debug, test, evaluate, criticise, compare, extend, combine, motivate, the things they and classmates have produced.
Allow simple text-based email (with provision for sharing diagrams) for discussion of problems and ideas, sharing of code, and collaborative production of documents.
Remove access to the web and search engines, except for very specific tasks where they learn how to write critical reviews of what they find on the internet, instead of merely quoting it.
That's off the top of my head and probably needs debugging. But I bet that all the people who write about teaching 'strategic subjects' and the need for 'highly skilled workers' are probably thinking of something very different from all that -- something which from this perspective is educationally disastrous: giving students PCs full of todays tools and teaching them to use them.
That's like teaching people how buy and cook pre-packed meals instead of teaching them chemistry.
I wonder how many people remember those sunday morning programs on BBC2 showing the amazing things that adventurous teachers and pupils did with computers in schools about 20 years ago or so, before they all started being taught to use word, internet explorer, powerpoint, spreadsheets, and other 'useful' packages which can easily fill up a curriculum and leave minds empty.
Around 30 years ago I made a prediction about how the educational power of computers would be used to transform us. How mistaken I was: all the wrong features of computers have been emphasised in education. See http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/cogaff/misc/gc-ed.html
A quite different sort of 'mental obesity' is discussed here http://members.aol.com/icgc/2003_INVENTION/2003-11-INVENTION.pdf
Last updated: 27 Apr 2006
Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham