This week I'm in Brunei judging the Crown Prince's competition for creative, innovative products. Brunei Darussalam is a fascinating place with a quietly successful cultural mix that offers the world a good prototype of just how different communities can get along. But, like so much of the world, there is a very clear sense of the importance of technology and children. As my fellow judges and I explore the ingenuity of each entry one turns to me and says, with a broad smile "THIS is our future".
Some contrast with the UK. I despair at how we have demonised and robbed this current generation that the media stereotypes as gun totting hoodies: rising property values leave them no chance of home ownership; companies lock them out of final pension schemes when they start work; LAs continue to sell off their school playing fields (2,500 more lost since Labour entered office) then we criticise them as sport averse and unfit. Alan Johnson's daft coureswwork changes stop them collaborating, but meanwhile they are criticised for the very selfish individual behaviours the assessment system now encourages. And we've hardly left them a legacy of a stable world have we? It is amazing they have stood it for so long and a tribute to the patience of these techno-confident children. But everything has its limits.
This generation, of course, have been busy turning to ICT to make the world a little better. Worried about about healthy eating? At my Be Very Afraid event at BAFTA last year children from Essex were making healthy eating podcasts that teachers are now tuning in too. Want to see great teachers, challenging mental arithmetic problems, remarkable world-best performances, schools paired across cultural divides, insights into day to day lives, hot debates about peace and more? Go search on YouTube or elsewhere. Children have leapt outside of the straighjackets of their school learning environemnts, virtual and real, to seize and use the remarkable Web 2.0 tools that are changing all our economies. Schools meanwhile often respond using the excuse of "happy slapping" pupils to ban YouTube and much else. Blocks appear at every turn: children, including a small vocal army of home learners, have embraced with real enthusiasm to the BBC's Digital Curriculum offering, JAM, which lets them learn at home, away from school if they wish. Sadly, even the unique and seductive JAM public service is under threat and it may yet not be allowed to get into the hands of our learners. Are we mad?
Well, it can't last and it won't last. Technology is a great democratiser as we saw with the public rejection of the Big Brother racist bullies. This new generation understands technology even better than any before. They are rightly fed up with the deal they have been given and when they finally call "enough" we will truly see just how well technology can amplify a voice. If you thought the road pricing petition was a protest, you ain't seen nothing yet. Pupil Voice? they'll hear the rumpus from Brunei.
© Professor Stephen Heppell, 2007