The Royal Society of Arts tonight staged a panel discussion, sponsored by
Vodafone, on ?Young People and Technology: opportunities and pitfalls in a
virtual world?. The event, chaired by Rory Cellan-Jones, the technology
correspondent of BBC News, was rather disappointing, mainly because the
discussion meandered around a number of themes without really focusing
debate on any of them.

First and foremost, the panel was criticised for not having any young people
on it. Two other main themes emerged ? both interesting but not really
related to each other. One was about the alleged pernicious effect of ICT
on the quality of teaching. With Phil Beadle arguing that £100 billion
(actually the figures he used, even if accurate, only came to £1 billion)
spent on providing inter-active whiteboards in every classroom was not only
wasted but, in fact, has led to teachers tied to formal presentations at the
front of the classroom and staying up all night to hone their Powerpoint
presentations rather than interacting freely and naturally with their
pupils. He also said too often pupils are told to do work on computers to
shut them up rather than to teach them. I have some sympathy with this
view, but that doesn?t mean that for some purposes some of the time new ICT
tools can?t help communicate material effectively to children in the
classroom. So this strand of the discussion produced some interesting rants
but failed to illuminate the more interesting question about whether a
society where children spend so long on computer games and interacting by
text or via social networking sites will produce adults who cannot interact
with each other in more traditional ways.

The other major strand of discussion was about bullying by text or via the
internet. There is no doubt that this is becoming a serious issue ? several
suicides or attempted suicides stemming from this were mentioned. However,
?traditional? bullying can also have dreadful consequences for those
bullied. So is it a new or inherently different phenomenon? The key
difference, of course, is that it doesn?t end when the victim gets home and
shuts the front door ? the messages can still be received and there is no
safe haven. However, apart from everyone taking this much more seriously,
little was offered as to what works in combating it.

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