IN A RECENT interview Clive Sinclair said that the day would come when the computer replaced the school. He did not elaborate but said that computers would eventually become better teachers than human beings.
That conjures images of a special room in the home with a system permanently set up with a set of cassettes which have to be worked through. There would be examination cassettes which have to be completed in a set time for a qualification to be obtained.
With even Sinclair having sold into only two percent of the homes in Britain, it will be a long time before computerized home education is the most usual system throughout the country. It is, however, something which can be introduced gradually, with parents being offered the option of choosing traditional schooling or learning at home.
In the initial stages that could be expensive, as Government help to buy the necessary hardware would be needed, together with an investment in the cassettes. The cost would be on top of normal educational costs.
Once the home schooling idea was accepted, however, the costs of providing education would fall dramatically. Almost the whole of the present system would no longer be needed, with consequent savings in wages and building and maintenance costs. Teachers would be replaced by a handful of people responsible for setting and updating the cassettes and marking the examination cassettes. None of the thousands of ancillary staff - caretakers, cleaners and cooks - would be needed. School transport would become a thing of the past and crossing patrols would no longer halt traffic at the busy times of the day. Additionally, vast areas of land would become available for development.
Clive presumably visualises Sinclair Research playing a leading role in those developments. The ZX-81 has long been a favourite machine for introducing children to computers and their educational possibilities. The Spectrum has now received Government blessing by being placed on the Department of Industry Micros in Schools Scheme for primary schools.
Sinclair already provides a package of educational software and the moves into telesoftware will make the transmission of courses much easier. In addition, Sinclair has long had the declared intention of developing the educational side of its business.
With the first clues to the ZX-83 being that it will take Sinclair further up-market, that could be the one which will begin the move to home schooling. The only hints available so far are that it will have its own screen, using the flat screen developed for the television set, use two of the forthcoming Microdrives, and be easily portable.
With the cost of hardware falling steadily, it would allow everyone at last to enjoy cheap, high-quality education in a form which is already achieving good results.
It all sounds too good to be true. It is.
Schools are much more than places for learning the subjects which appear in the curriculum. They are a major stage in learning social skills. All children make friends in their neighbourhood but most friends are made at school. They also gain by having contact with others from different backgrounds. There are sufficient problems in the world caused by a lack of understanding between groups of people without increasing the divisions by removing an effective way of bringing people together.
Human beings have achieved their development through being able to co-operate with each other, to do things which would have been impossible individually. Anything which reduces the ability to work together will work against that continued development.
With the swift advances which have already been made in computer-aided education, it is unlikely that the development will not continue. At the moment, however, the problems of transferring learning to the home seem too great to be surmounted.