Is the £61million being spent on the renovation of Big Ben a waste of money? It may be Britain’s most iconic badge of identity but it seems many young people can no longer tell the time by it or by any other traditional analogue timepiece. It is going to be digital clocks only in most examination halls this summer.
The Daily Telegraph reported this observation from Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders: ‘The current generation aren’t as good at reading the traditional clock face . . . You don’t want them to put their hand up to ask how much time is left.’ Stephanie Keenan, Head of English at Ruislip High School in north-west London, told the newspaper that her school had installed digital clocks in the exam hall because many Year 9, 10 and 11 students [ages 13 to 16] could not tell the time on an analogue clock.
‘THICK TOCK’ was the Sun’s apposite headline . Sadly, this is not a ‘fake news’ story. Even Rob Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, has opined that it ‘should be an alarm call’! How right he is, and what a disgrace it is that thirty years of educational reform has brought us to this state of affairs.
We are now beginning to see the consequences of many children’s reliance on, and addiction to, digital technology. It is an addiction promoted by schools and enforced by Ofsted. Not only are many pupils unable to tell the time, lots of ‘touchscreen’ younger children cannot hold a pen or a pencil. They lack the ‘fine motor’ skills – hand strength and dexterity – to write by hand, according to a report earlier this year by Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England Foundation NHS Trust.
Where are we heading? The advent of emoji cartoon language and ‘text speak’ circumvents basic literacy for too many children. A reliance on calculators has made learning arithmetical tables by heart a contentious matter. A ‘good pass’ at GCSE can be attained with 15 per cent of the marks, which equates to primary school levels in the best education systems around the world. A-level English now offers for study Russell Brand, Dizzee Rascal and Blackadder whilst the most popular option for A-level History is witchcraft, with the cult horror movie Witchfinder General recommended for study. Meanwhile, exam grades no longer matter much, if at all, for entry to a ‘uni’ where ‘safe spaces’ and decades of debt come as part of the almost guaranteed upper second or first class degree package.
In 2021, following four years of restoration, the chimes of Big Ben will once again be heard around Westminster. Schools groups visiting London will stand and listen to count the hours. How sad that many of the pupils will not be able to tell the time by the clock face. What an indictment of our education system! What a symptom of decline!
With apologies to John Donne:
‘Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for our children’s education.’