Editorial by Peter Limbrick: One day last week my newspaper had two items that caught my eye. The first about a report from the (UK) Children’s Society and the second about plans for new colleges in England to train students for practical careers from 14 years of age. I see a connection between the two.
I have taken the following from the Children’s Society website:
‘Children in England are unhappier with their school life than those in almost every country featured in a major new international survey by The Children’s Society, with more than half a million 10 and 12-year-olds having been physically bullied each month, causing huge damage to their happiness, and with many more feeling left out.
‘The Good Childhood Report 2015, which closely examined how happy 10 and 12-year-old children are in 15 diverse countries, found that children in England are unhappier with their school experience than those in 11 other countries including Ethiopia and Algeria — only faring better than children in Germany, South Korea and Estonia.
‘The report, which marks a decade of work on children’s well-being in collaboration with the University of York, found that more than a third (38%) of 10 and 12 year olds in England had been physically bullied in the last month, and half (50%) had felt excluded.
‘The research showed the profound impact bullying can have on children’s lives, with children in England who were bullied frequently being six times more likely to have low well-being than children who have not been bullied.
‘On average, two children in each classroom are dissatisfied with aspects of their school life, with their main concerns being their relationship with their teachers, the things they learn and the other children.
‘The study also showed that children became unhappier as they hit their teens, around the age of 13 or 14. Children in year six were much more likely to say they liked going to school compared to those in year eight (61% vs 43%).’
This important report covers many aspects of children’s experience of school and I recommend it to you. One issue that it does not cover is the ‘new’ school environment we have created with wi-fi in the classrooms. We expose children of all ages to electromagnetic radiation as though it were entirely natural and without risk. There is much evidence pointing to harmful effects on children which include anxiety and depression.
My personal experience of wi-fi and mobile phone radiation is that when I get too much it stops me thinking clearly and makes me very irritable and short tempered. I avoid it as much as I can. Surely there is some research to be done here linking classroom wi-fi, altered mental states, bullying and victimhood?
In the second of my two news items, we are told of new colleges to train 14 – 19-year-olds in a range of occupational subjects including digital technology, construction, catering, engineering and healthcare. I can easily imagine this might give many unhappy teenagers a new lease of life by getting them off the academic conveyor belt – but a cynical voice in my head suggests the motive for the new colleges might be more employers’ interests than children’s happiness.
But what a wonderful idea! Presumably the colleges will have a school curriculum with an overlaid emphasis on occupational skills training. If we are going to get kids off the academic conveyor belt, I want to suggest colleges for 14 – 19-year-olds that emphasise other human endeavours including music, visual arts, theatre, dance, writing, sport, outdoor activity, philosophy and social activism. The motivation would be to meet teenagers on their own terms, offer them meaningful activity and travel with them as they develop their potential and ways of being fully human.
School does not have to be an unhappy place but in my view recent UK governments have shown little respect for childhood or for the happiness of children and teenagers.
About wi-fi and anxiety: