All I want for Christmas is a a little more global literacy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 1994, 12:00am

A WHILE back, before a huge and hideous abscess morphed my already challenged face into the pumpkin-like apparition it is now, I was listening to the BBC World Service and heard a British education official say the country's so-called National Curriculum was a load of rubbish.

Many teachers had been saying the same thing since this twaddle was introduced several years ago. Now the word was it had to be dumped because it was loading up a whole generation with useless knowledge compressions.

The National Curriculum underpinned Margaret Thatcher's ambition of creating a peppy generation of capitalist readers - for a high-tech, look-smart, be-smart 21st-century Britain.

Under this bold plan, everyone would be computer-literature and be smart enough to be in smart company and go to smart places. People would say 'Super!' and 'Excellent' a lot.

The intellectual elite of the future would not be Oxbridge dons - who do not know Warp from iambic pentameter anyway - but mesmerising fund managers who could whiz about in real-time.

By the time the National Curriculum arrived in Hong Kong, it seemed to dissolve books. Textbooks were replaced by worksheets arranged around topics that had beginnings and ends. They were distributed in digestible portions and, as the next portion was being digested, the last portion was being jettisoned.

It was curriculum by copier. And as the sheets disintegrated, all reference to the past was lost. Sneaking a glimpse of the future - kind of nice if you are the sort of person who likes context - was out of the question because the future had not been run off the copier yet.

As in the United States where 'in numerates' are popping up like locusts, calculators will not be allowed in the post-National Curriculum classrooms until children first learn to do handy things like add.

Britain, of course, was not alone in its embrace of educational gadgetry and notions of computer literacy.

The things about computer literacy is that it seems to involve becoming illiterate in other respects. Educators now speak of the growing population of functional illiterates - dysfunctionals who can recognise letters of the alphabet but lack the wherewithal to join them together so that they can fill out a simple form.

The sad part is no one, except for someone who dreams of being a programmer, has to be computer literate. It behooves the computer industry to become people literate, not the other way round. IBM shrunk to nearly half the company it once was trying to figure that one out.

Its moron-friendly Warp multimedia package vividly documents that turnaround. Apple, of course, had the equation figured out from the start. Microsoft, brain-busting DOS aside, did too.

You do not have to be an electrical engineer to flip on a light switch. I am at sea in the world of refrigerants but I find that am as adept as the next man at grabbing a frosty can of drink off the shelf.

People are constantly cooking up moron-friendly guides and packages to make sense of Internet. And one day soon, one of these will be simple enough to slip into my slim mental envelope.

Indeed, it will not be too long before the population of illiterate layabouts outnumbers the nerds.

The winds of change are already swirling about us. From the nerd in the family, I received a request for books for Christmas - his first suggestion list that did not include loud hints about going off to Shamshuipo to buy peripherals and assorted noisemakers.

From his younger brother came both an admission and a suggestion. Perhaps, he said, I should take his new notebook off his hands because I could use it, and he did not have the time to do so.

'There's just too much reading I have to do,' he said . . . spoken like a lad finally free of the National Curriculum. Excellent! Super! As for me, all I want for Christmas are the two front teeth of the guy who dreamed up the National Curriculum.