There is a sense of the world having changed without me being aware of it. The teaching of religious education was always something of an educational backwater. There was no groundbreaking research going on, no new discoveries about which to talk, nothing that could have counted as innovation or invention. There were many variations on a theme, but the theme did not change. The teaching of religious education looks essentially as it did in the early 1980s, bookish and propositional with little to differentiate it from that of generations past. Look at the content of any catechetical course and it is unchanging.
Encountering the world of secondary school mathematics teaching was like entering a different world: interactive technology in the classroom and an abundance of complex material online. Sophisticated websites like Wolfram Alpha offer considerable resources even to those who do not subscribe; Khan Academy is my favourite.
Sal Khan is a Bangladeshi-American who lives in Mountain View in California. Sal himself presents many among the six thousand videos that the Academy have online. He teaches maths with a self-effacing good humour. There is a sense in listening to him that he is someone who is a friend, someone who is used to dealing with a dull student who sometimes struggles to get his head around the concepts. There is always a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each presentation. As well as the videos, the Academy includes interactive exercises and structured tests. It is all available free at the point of delivery, to anyone in the world who is able access it. There is no pressure for subscriptions, or even for a donation.
There is an infectious enthusiasm among those responsible for the online maths material. Perhaps enthusiasm and a mood of excitement with the material are to be expected among those who take their subject onto a website, and perhaps their work will increasingly be the way of the future.
Already both teachers and students make regular use of materials from online tutors like Mr Barton. Visiting a school recently, I was asked by Year 10 students if I was Mr Hegarty. Having read the Hegarty Maths website, I smiled and said that I wished I was. To be Mr Hegarty would be someone whose work has benefited countless thousands of students.
Clicking through a succession of school maths websites, I wondered how much longer it would be before the Internet became the classroom – even for those in school. It’s all a world away from the catechism.