Wednesday, 14 August 2013



The technology revolution has made itself felt everywhere, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in education. The boom of the late 1990s gave birth to ‘Computers for Education’, a far-sighted plan to “put a computer for every child in every classroom’’. No longer would bored school kids have to sit in rows and chant their times tables; instead they would be bent over their keyboards, their eyes fixed on their individual computer screens, as they toiled away at custom-made lessons, lessons tailored to their very own strengths and weaknesses.  No longer would they be fettered by the need to keep step in step with the rest of their classmates. Now they could shake off the yoke of ‘mean-age-equals-required -level-of-attainment’ thinking of old, and forge ahead by themselves, developing their own unique skills and talents as fast as their brains could soak them up.
Ed-tech would turn education on its head its proponents claimed. (No proponents said it louder than the corporations making profits from selling educational computer software.) The educationalists fell for it hook, line and sinker; the politicians fell for it, and on-line learning was written into every school curriculum post-haste. 

The haste and enthusiasm proved to be premature, if not woefully misplaced. Yes -- now there are a few computers installed in most classrooms. No -- the revolution in learning has not yet happened. What the theorists hadn’t taken into account was kids’ basic stubbornness and resistance to change. OK, it’s all very nice to have a computer to tap away at occasionally, but after half an hour or so it becomes a bore. We want to react among ourselves, not with a keyboard. I mean, you can’t poke fun at Computer C’s crossed eyes; you can’t pull Computer D’s hair and make it squeal. If only we could play Grand Theft Auto or Power Rangers III on them it would be alright, but no, the stuffed-shirt  authorities have blocked access to all fun things like that. Yikes, give me the old-fashioned chaos of classroom lessons any day of the week.

The EFL classroom was not to escape the grandiose edu-tech schemes of the 1990s. Even earlier than that, in the late 70’s in fact, Language Labs became the buzz-word of the EFL world. Any language school worthy of the name and with the necessary funds was installing one. Nowadays, unused language labs sit  gathering cob-webs, or have been broken down into individual computer modules for purposes the lab designers never intended. There are today hundreds of software programs claiming to expand vocabularies, teach and reinforce grammar points, iron out pronunciation and intonation difficulties,  perfect spelling, take the tedium out of marking tests, and prepare individual lesson plans, all at the click of a mouse. All the teacher has to do is sit at the front of the computer room and say “Start”, and then, ninety minutes later, say “Stop”. 

Goodbye teaching, hello technology-enabled language acquisition. Uh huh, and is that how things work at your school? No, mine either. 

“OK, kids, open your books at page seventeen, and everybody repeat after me: ‘What did you have for lunch today? I had rice and fish. How about you?’ And Johnny, stop pulling Sarah’s hair, would you!“


My new book, EFL minus the B.S., is now available on Amazon. If you’re looking for a weighty tome on pedagogy, and the meta-cognitive paradigms of second-language acquisition, give this book a miss. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an entertaining dissection of the English teaching game worldwide, EFL minus the B.S. is the book for you. Order your copy today from Amazon.

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