Great excitement at my daughter's primary school last week, as it was her class' turn with the multimedia PC. Unfortunately, I missed the fanfare which celebrated the arrival of this rare and expensive piece of equipment, but it looked very impressive - certainly better than the clapped-out relict which lives in Sarah's classroom but no longer seems to work.
Letting 32 kids loose on a PC would be asking for trouble, so Sarah's teacher asked parents to help, taking the children in pairs for 20 minutes at a time. Being what Tony Blair would call IT literate, I volunteered with, I have to say, a certain amount of trepidation, other people's children not being among my favourite fauna.
I needn't have worried. The PC seemed to bring out the best in them.
Even usually naughty boys behaved perfectly, taking turns and offering each other advice (though whether this was the stimulating effect of new technology, or because there was a large and hirsute stranger sitting between them, I'm not sure). The 20-minute sessions passed remarkably quickly, certainly far quicker than 20 minutes did when I was at school.
The children were only four-and-a-half, so I had anticipated etymological difficulties in explaining technical terms like mouse and keyboard - not to mention entomological difficulties, since the mouse was actually a ladybird. But it transpired that three quarters of the children helped that afternoon had PCs at home, and probably knew more about our Noddy in Toyland game than I did.The kids can scarcely read or write, but they proved remarkably skilled at using the mouse and keyboard. The girls were just as adept as the boys, though not quite as competitive and rather less silly.
I can also recommend playing Snap on-screen rather than with cards. Children aren't so keen to argue with a computer about who said snap first. The only practical problems were the mouse buttons. Just how do you explain to a four-year-old why a mouse (sorry, ladybird) has three buttons when it only needs one, and why they always seem to press the wrong one at the critical moment, allowing the goblins to steal Mr Plod's iced bun yet again?
However, apart from the expense, multimedia could cause big problems in schools. There was an almost permanent traffic jam of children who stopped to peer over our shoulders as we played ... sorry, worked. Other parents sitting near us, hearing children read or helping them to sew egg cosies, fought a losing battle for their attention.
Perhaps it's just as well. There are nearly 600 children at Sarah's school, so her class won't get the multimedia PC again until next term. Still, each child used it for at least 20 minutes. If they do that every term, that's a whole hour's IT experience in a single year. Who says the government isn't investing in our children's future?
Paul Bray is a freelance IT journalist.
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