Shakespeare The Blogging Bard? Why O-Levels Should Become E-Levels

No doubt the impact of the digital revolution will be recorded in the history books – well e-readers – in much the same way as the agricultural and industrial revolutions did before us.

So while some of the latest suggestions from the Department of Education which seem to be rolling out at the same rate as spam emails are interesting, not to mention surprising, what seems to be overlooked is an appreciation of the impact that the e-age is having on the way we learn, the way we communicate, the way we function and the way we live.

The management and execution of any new, or revised, policies need to recognise the work that neuroscientists are doing into the impact that digital technology is having on the developing brain. By all accounts the attention spans and learning skills of the iGeneration are being affected, which might make reciting poetry a bit of a doggerel pursuit – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate it in different and more exciting ways.

This recent ability or lack of ability to concentrate is not old news. Headlines just this year screamed that pupils were failing the ‘Dickens Test’ – failing to recognise key characters and well known plots and recall them. Whether we failed the Shakespeare test or the Pinter test was not stated, but by all accounts pupils are not concentrating in the same way as they once did.

What may be being overlooked however is that we are training the grey matter to multitask.

Live sport is awash with commentary from lay people as twittering and status updates go into overdrive; the mobility of the iPod enables the downloading of audio and opportunities to revise on the running machine and short of plugging the kettle into the laptop look how quickly we cook and Skype at the same time.

We might not be learning in the same depth but we could be learning and doing twice as much at once. Being hindbound by convention is one thing; failing to recognise tools that can advance our knowledge is another.

So if we do have to go down that well worn path of learning to recite poetry again would it not be worth designing Tim Burton style animations to go with them? Already many young children are exposed to a heady mix of creative styles long before they start school so learning a poem or two by heart may seem a tad tame after they’ve helped The Queen of Hearts to burn her tarts online.

If we are to do History O Level again is there value in opening a Facebook page for Jethro Tull and setting up a JT@seedfields twitter account? And why not Skype school performances of Hamlet with scenes played out in different schools, in different counties, in different countries?!

We may freak at the suggestion of chopping Tolstoy up into digestible megabytes, we may balk at the thought of Scrooge and Hamlet opening Twitter accounts and we may laugh at the thought of Mr Bumble teasing the reader with his very own Facebook page while Jamie Oliver offers a more tempting alternative to a bowl of gruel, but let’s not forget Emily Bronte already has 57,842 ‘likes’ on her Facebook page, and who’s to say that Shakespeare would object to being the ‘Blogging Bard’ – if “all the world’s a stage” as he says – I’m sure, if he were here today, that would include the laptop as well.

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