We should look forward to writing not mattering as much as it does

When I was a kid, I begged for a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

If that means nothing to you, it was an early 1980s home computer that you hooked up the TV and loaded software onto via cassettes.

I pretended it would be “educational” and would help me with my homework, because anyone operating in a scenario where resources are scarce knows how important it is to deny you want something for pleasure rather than utility.

I really wanted to play games on it. And in the end, in doing so, I learned a lot.

That “don’t let on you might want to enjoy life” thing is so strong. You sort of have to when things like that Stafford by-election candidate’s flowchart gets shared.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was lucky to spend the afternoon with a bunch of young people passionate about education – student tutors that work for the Tutor Trust in schools.

They’re the sort of people that know that real learning generally has to be pleasurable.

I think that’s why I often meet students who say they learned little from their course but loads from extracurriculars – they found that activity more pleasurable.

Over in schools a report out today from the Commission on School Reform found 210,672 pupils in Scotland had an attendance of less than 90 per cent during the 2022/23 school year, meaning they miss an average of a day every fortnight.

In Wales, thousands more children will be classed as “persistently” absent from school as part of Welsh government plans to tackle an attendance “crisis”.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Education yesterday held an Attendance Summit to discuss the increasing challenges, following the Covid pandemic, to managing pupil attendance at school.

And in England the number of children who are now “severely absent” from school in England is “of great concern”, according to the Commons Education Committee this week.

At the Tutor Trust event, various causes were discussed – economic precarity, the way the system is regulated, and the almost complete collapse of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) – which feeds the mental health crisis in universities.

But curriculum reform was a big part of it too.

One of the tutors had a great tale about a student weighing up doing history or geography at Level 3.

It was along these lines – they were a good writer, so were being pushed into the former by their school – but they were more passionate about the latter.

I felt this a lot. I was pretty bright, so the idea of doing Media Studies caused my teachers some concern.

One of the things that therefore excites me about Generative AI is that the skill of writing could well be about to cease to matter.

Everyone can write well now – or at least soon will be able to. Removing that as a signifier or barrier in relation to a subject has the potential to be transformative

And yes I know it’s still a good idea for students to learn how to write and we’ll still need some really good writers. But who is thinking “we need every kid to own and be trained on a physical camera” now that everyone’s snaps (often augmented by AI) are now good enough?

The removal of writing as a pathway determiner could free up all sorts of students to make more choices based on passions, which is a massive boost when you’re up against it.

One of the other things I was thinking about on the punishing Avanti journey back was that think that where so many educationalists get the future of HE wrong is to focus on what I might call the “Spectrum is educational” folly.

“They won’t want to go to university for three years, they can avoid the cost”, etc

Fundamentally, students want a good time while they can. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it’s good for their education.

Not everything has to be slog or an ordeal.

And above all, sometimes we get really well written blogs in that don’t say much and where there’s not really a sniff of passion. And we also get pretty rough and ready stuff in that leaps off the page.

Of course I’ll do my best to work up the former. But it’s the latter I love working on the most. Sorry not sorry.

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