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Handheld Learning and Individuated Achievement PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Roushias   
Wednesday, 04 October 2006
/troubled.jpgEducation exists under ideological constraints.

In 1960s mainland Britain, according to the doctor-writer Theodore Dalrymple (2001), “the abolition of selective public secondary schools, on the grounds that they were socially divisive, resulted in a sudden halving of the proportion of public school students at the best universities.”

The same egalitarian concerns led to the teaching of mixed ability pupils in the same class. However, by the early 1990s a former Chief Inspector of Schools concluded that "most teachers aim for the middle: The bright children are frustrated and the ones at the bottom get left behind", and, in 2001, the inspectorate reported that almost all schools banded pupils by ability at secondary level, especially in the sciences and languages. Last year comprehensive schools in Glasgow and Hampshire received extensive press coverage, and government interest, for streaming children by ability instead of chronological age.


The general problem of adapting education to all could not be solved by putting all pupils in the same class - as is regularly satirized on South Park. This level of egalitarianism was not even implemented in the Soviet Union, where pupils were taught mathematics and sciences according to their ability. Nevertheless, in Britain and America, where education has not been a great success in recent decades, great anxiety exists over providing pupils with the sort of individuated education that they and the economy clearly need. The specialized public high schools of New York City, whose students gain entry by competitive exam, such as the Bronx High School of Science, are decried as elitist, and a 1997 Labour pledge to open similar institutions of excellence in the UK was seemingly buried under similar concerns. At the same time, standards in non-specialized schools continue to cause concern.

An ideological conflation of competition and elitism (or is it competitiveness and chauvinist imperialism?) seems to rest at the heart of the current concern over ‘the problem with boys’ - problems that led Christina Hoff Sommers (2000) to declare that feminized education is harming our young men. Co-operative group work, and extended course work, seems to alienate boys. A gender gap has been added to the race gap in educational achievement, and we have reached a situation where Trevor Phillips (2005) suggests that black boys (and not girls) be separated from their classmates. Girls have overtaken boys in terms of quantitative performance, but does this really offer a qualitative benefit for girls? At the time of writing, headlines on the first page of the BBC education website include Maths GSCE coursework axed (finally), ‘Free up curriculum’ teachers say, Next wave of scientists ‘at risk’ and Truancy rates at all time high.

Much will and has been said about the advantage of Handheld Learning as a tool which engages students because it is isomorphic with the out of classroom networking technologies they already employ. More than this, it offers us a solution to all the moral dichotomies in education. The huge advantage of Handheld Learning is that education can be adapted to the individual needs of the learner as well as being inclusive. When learning is not only networked but individuated, education can be simultaneously collaborative, ability-driven and entrepreneurial.

About the Author

Alex Roushias is a consultant with Handheld Learning.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 October 2006 )
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