Jan 182009
 
Transparent version of :Image:Nintendo DS Lite...
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“What are you doing girls?” I asked the twins.

“Shhh Dad, we’re connecting,” came the distracted reply.

They were sitting in the living room heads burried in the Nintendo DS consoles they’d got for Christmas, playing the same game, together but apart. On one level the remote interaction, using portable electronic devices to communicate and collaborate in real time, is a really important skill for them to develop — on another it’s worryingly antisocial and all consuming. Trying to get their attention while they’re immersed in a game or engrossed in a wireless instant messaging chat with each other (even though they’re in the same room) is disturbingly difficult.

It’s a sign of the times… technology is bringing us closer together, but at the same time its pushing us further apart,  diluting the need for real human contact.

Via the internet it’s now easier than ever to connect, share and communicate via media that by their very nature transcend physical barriers like geography and time zones. Always on, high speed access to the internet is fundamentally changing the way a whole generation of people do everything, from Christmas shopping to chatting with their grandma on the other side of the world.

The rise of the internet to become a dominant force in practically all of our lives is unprecedented. According to Internet World Stats in June 2008 there were a staggering 1.46 billion people online. That’s 21% of the human population — and it’s still growing at a phenomenal rate! Even if you don’t own a computer, have never sent an e-mail, and never want to, the influence of the internet in your life is profound. How so?
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Jan 102009
 
Batt O'Keeffe
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With the excitement of Christmas and New Year behind us the kids are gearing up to going back to school. Their partly looking forward to seeing their friends again, and partly mourning the fact that the holidays are coming to a close.

I can sympathise with them, in part because I still recall the conflicting emotions of going back to school after the Christmas break from my own childhood… but mainly because of the clash of sentiments it causes for me now as a parent.

Back to school means back to routine: getting up early, making school lunches (a personal pet peeve of mine), organising the kids, getting out of the door on time. The return to school imposes structure on the fluidity of life… and on one level that’s a good thing. At the same time structure and routine are always going to be more boring and mundane than disorder and spontaneity, and part of me riles against the conformity of it all.

But back to school they must go… and while spending lots of time with them over the holidays has been wonderful, for the most part I’ll be happy to reclaim the bulk of my working week as we head into what promises to be a very challenging year.

Talking of challenging years, I guess I should be grateful that the children have a school to go back to in 2009, given the cutbacks our esteemed Government is imposing on our education system. Faced with the cost-cutting initiatives spearheaded by Cork TD and Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, financially embattled schools across the country are facing a very tough 2009 on the fiscal front, and will no doubt be looking to parents for fundraising and direct financial contributions. The Government will bail out the banks, it seems, but bailing out the schools falls to mums and dads.

I’m all for parents getting involved and raising money for schools — but for my money (if you’ll pardon the pun) such funds should surely go towards equipment, facilities and resources over and above those demanded by the standard national curriculum. Schools should be adequately funded by Government to cover all of the basics. When parents have to raise money to subsidise things like the school’s heating bill there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

Nobody questions the need to cut Government spending in the wake of the economic downturn, but the approach the Government has taken speaks volumes about the character of those we choose to lead us. When the going got tough, they  chose to target the most vulnerable in society: the very old and the very young, or to put it another way, those least likely to fight back. Of course they underestimated the backlash (they seem to underestimate most things, with the notable exception of their own competence to govern).

The irony here is that health and education are probably two of the last places a Government should look to reduce funding: the first is vital to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce today, a workforce that will help our beleaguered economy push through the recession; the second is the foundation stone on which all future prosperity will be built.

Now, Mr O’Keefe, perhaps you can explain to parents, teachers, and most of all to children, how undermining the stability of that foundation could possibly be considered a good idea.

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Oct 012008
 
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A new programme aimed at secondary schools is apparently going to teach our children how to budget, save and be smart with money. The programme, dubbed “Get Smart with your Money”, is a joint venture between the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and the Financial Regulator, and encourages students to explore their attitudes to money.

A “free pack”, containing a teachers manual full of activities, tips and case studies, and individual learner journals for the students, is being distributed to secondary schools around the country. The programme was officially launched last week by Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin.

“Having a dedicated module on finance which helps young people to understand budgeting, planning, shopping around and how to manage their resources in order to make the most of their money is very welcome,” she said at the launch.

“Students will be able to build on their knowledge from other financial areas of the curriculum such as mathematics and business studies,” she enthused.

Given the chronic state of underfunding in our schools, both primary and secondary, and an economy that’s nose diving into the depths of recession, I can’t help but wonder if Ms Hanafin and her cabinet colleagues might benefit from a bit of fiscal training of their own….

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