Thursday, 21 January 2021

Home-schooling and the digital divide

From the BBC:

Parents say they feel "deserted" having to home school during lockdown with a lack of access to computers... Bristol mother Edwina Ogu said home schooling four children with no computer during the first lockdown had been a "nightmare". The Department for Education (Dfe) has pledged to provide one million devices for schools and colleges.

Agreed. If your kids are over (say) seven years old, have a bedroom and a laptop or PC each, home-schooling is manageable. But plenty of people are not in this happy position. Halfway decent laptops or PCs cost £500 and up; internet is patchy in some areas; not all kids have their own bedroom etc.

There's actually a cheap and simple solution to this.  You can get a new TV with Freeview and internet capability for under £150. There are plenty of channels broadcasting complete crap during the day who can be taken off air until 3 in the afternoon.

For kids up to age 14, all you need is one channel for each school year broadcasting a standard curriculum from 9 until 3 with an hour for lunch. All the kids in the UK can watch whichever channel is broadcasting for their year. The TV teacher sets the homework - kids take, email or post their homework back to their actual school once a week and it gets dished out to be marked by their actual teachers.

I accept that different schools use different textbooks, but run with it. School teachers just have to keep tabs on what was covered in their subjects that day and be ready to field questions from their pupils, online, by phone or in person.

It gets a bit more complicated for age 15 to 16 when kids are doing GSCEs. But I'm sure that 99% of GSCEs are in less than twenty different subjects. If I understand the rules correctly, there will be relatively few subject clashes and it might only need another dozen channels (i.e. half a dozen per year x two years of GSCEs).

Switching channels is no more difficult (conceputally) than switching classrooms. So after maths (which appears to be compulsory, not that you'd notice) which everybody watches on the main channel, the history pupils switch to the channel which is showing the history lesson; the geography kids pupils switch to the channel which is showing the geography lesson etc. After that, they all switch back to compulsory English Language (not that you'd notice that either) on the main channel.

Inevitably, there will still be timetable clashes for pupils doing unusual combinations (what's new) but as long as there are a couple of free periods each week and kids have halfway decent internet, they can use the 'catch up' function for that. If they don't have halfway decent internet, they'll just have to choose a workable combination of subjects.


Ric said...

Great idea.

Bayard said...

It really makes one wonder how anyone got taught anything in the days before the internet.

Mark Wadsworth said...

R, thanks. We seem to be moving towards this, but only very slowly.

B, legend has it that Australian kids in the outback listened to school lessons on the radio. I'm sure that TV is much better for most subjects.

ontheotherhand said...

A 14 inch Chromebook costs £200 and is plenty for participating in web lessons and for submitting work. For young students the interactivity via web camera keeps them engaged/monitored. However, for conscientious students a recorded video lesson is fine. I wonder how universities will justify their fees in future when in theory the best lecture ever given on the planet on Subject A can be recorded and available for subscription. The tutorials remain valuable, as is the signalling effect of getting accepted at a top university, but the learning resources are commoditised.

Mark Wadsworth said...

OTOH, are they good enough? I can't abide laptops. Still requires decent internet.

I agree with your comments on universities.

ontheotherhand said...

I am typing on a Chromebook now. It is just a dumb terminal/internet device with very long battery life. I connect it to work and 'voila' I am on a virtual Microsoft desktop. Outside work if I need a spreadsheet or something I can use the Google stuff fine. In the evening I can watch Netflix on it so it seems to have enough computing power. My 9 yr old in the village primary school got loaned a very basic chromebook for her schoolwork and lessons and it works fine.

Mark Wadsworth said...

OTOH, thanks. I live and learn!

How many hours of Netflix can you watch before the battery dies? I use an Argos tablet which cost £120 or so, the battery was completely buggered after a few months and now it will only do ten or fifteen minutes under battery. So I just leave it plugged into the charger (and the downstairs TV) 24/7.

Bayard said...

"You can get a new TV with Freeview and internet capability for under £150."

I got a five-year-old near to top of the range laptop for half that second hand. About a fiver more and I would have had a two-year warranty. I run it connected to a 19" screen that cost me a tenner on eBay, although I did have to pick it up.

ontheotherhand said...

It does 6 hours on battery no problem on a 2yr old device. It charges fully in 1 hour.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, that sounds like a bargain.

OTOH, good to know. I might get myself one of those.

The Stigler said...

Fill the smaller channels with YouTube and make sure those kids have data and a chromecast or Roku box for the TV. Those little boxes are about £30.

BTW The Chromebook is roughly speaking a phone or android tablet in a PC form. All your data is managed remotely like on those. I've yet to try one but I think for people who need simple computing like email, browsing, office, photos they do the job pretty well.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, you still need one Roku box and TV per child. So might as well buy another couple of decent TVs with Freeview built in.

Do most families already have one TV with Freeview per person? I'm sure plenty do, and it's only a few £ to upgrade to one each.