I was in a converted toilet.
The boys toilet.
Not even the girls toilet, but the boys toilet.
It still had that echoey feel that only a toilet can muster thanks to the distinct lack of soft-furnishings, even when converted into a computer room.
At least they got rid of the toilets.
In their place ran a long wooden desk down one side and a series of bulky old computers by defunct brands like Commodore and Sinclair.
There was a ZX81, a computer with 1k processing power. We knew it was shit even then, but it was a breakthrough product because it was affordable for normal people. We sat in a lunchtime huddle, the school Computer Club, and yes, you rightly imagine that this was not a knot of cool kids.
A couple of the more-greasy-haired ones quietly exchanged Dungeons and Dragons cards as the teacher drew us into the exciting new world of micro-computing.
I remember him quite well. He was an earnest softly-spoken man with a big nose and a kindly manner. He sounded camp, and we all thought he was gay until he married one of the other teachers. A woman teacher, obviously.
He typed in some BASIC code that made the computer ask “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” and when you reply with, say, “brian”, it responds cleverly with “HELLO brian”.
The point is, who’d have thought that so few years later, that computer literacy was pretty much as fundamental as good old-fashioned literacy.
The three “Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic have become the 4Rs – the fourth R being informatics.
We didn’t know this then, and had never heard of things like Project Managers and Data Base Administrators and couldn’t imagine a job where people wrote code all day. The Internet didn’t exist – this was pre-Al Gore – and so while the school gamely tried to prepare us for the brave new world of technology, the pace of change was beyond any of our imaginations.
This didn’t matter.
The pace of change inevitably means that schools cannot prepare us for the future workplace, they cannot predict the future, and the time lag that comes with exam boards and curricula catching up with whatever’s going on today, means at best we’re being prepared for yesterday’s workplace.
But education is not about preparing kids for work, it’s about helping them understand their potential and preparing them for life.
It’s not about forcing obedience, it’s about encouraging responsibility.
It’s not about teaching kids to use the computers of today, it’s about teaching kids to use their brains properly, and be resilient and agile enough to deal with change we simply cannot anticipate.
My school was average, I’d like to think it was terrible – some Oliver-Twist-like story of cruelty and bullying, but it wasn’t. It was just a mediocre organisation that kept children off the streets and out their parents’ hair. The people who got to Oxford and Cambridge got there because they would have got there anyway – the school didn’t hinder intelligent self-motivated people, but I don’t reckon it helped a single person achieve anything better than they would have done anyway.
School should be about discovery and maximising the talent of individuals, it should be about awakening potential and generating enthusiasm.
It shouldn’t be about out-of-date work skills and forcing people to play rugby*.
* That’s another story