Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Published today

Nothing to do with Conductive Education

Published today is the latest edition of the quarterly subscription magazine e-Learning Today, each issue of which includes an item on ‘special educational needs’. In the present issue this has been written by myself. It makes no mention of Conductive Education but is of possible interest to people concerned with this field.

Addressing a readership of schoolteachers with a particular interest in the use of ICT, and has probably never heard of Conductive Education, the article opens as follows:

Please don’t get me wrong. I grew up a ‘Meccano boy’ and have always been an enthusiast for technology of every kind. I have embraced electronic communication. I am all for every means possible for facilitating and enhancing the society’s essential processes of education and upbringing, be this at home, at school or in society at large.

I am also a firm believer in the rather Continental concept of ‘educational science’, and regard pedagogy to be the highest educational technology of all.

I am sure that many (most, all?) of those who read these words will share versions of these two streams of thinking. Like me, they may also wonder whether the two are at times manifest in contradictory ways, not necessarily resolved to the betterment of children’s development. Indeed, like me they may even actively question whether there are dangers inherent in how ICT may be used for the education and development of disabled children (and by extension for the development of others too, all others).

The article proceeds by outlining the social-historical understanding of child development, what happens when this is ‘derailed’ or ‘dislocated’ (what Conductive Education refers to a ‘dysfunction’) and, from quite different traditions, the notions of learned dependence and learned helplessness.

It concludes as follows:

Towards a pedagogy for children with motor disorders

At the opening of this article I stated that I have a real dilemma over the use of ICT in the education and upbringing of children with movement disabilities (and by extension, a lot of other children too). Just for perspective’s sake, I must also state that I have similar reservations about some of the other things that are done for (often more correctly to) children in order to provide some specific or immediate ‘help’. Granting (perhaps) the best intentions in the world, such interventions may pay little or no regard for the more long-term and general learning that they may generate.

Readers may draw down from their own experience of therapies and medical procedures, educational arrangements and family life, even the activities of our wider society to see what they think of the model proposed here.

One constantly reads articles claiming some new software is the panacea for disabled children, in this magazine and in the popular press, one hears it on the radio, one sees it on television. Discussing computers as though they were per se some sort of 'universal panacea' for disabled children has become part of our unquestioning Zeitgeist

This is not just a matter of softwear, but of all sorts of electronically controlled devices, and low tech ‘solutions’ too for practical problems of eating, toileting, dressing, playing, studying. It is no criticism of the apparatus involves, whatever its level of technology, to stop for a moment, and ask what its use is actually teaching and what are the possible effects of this use upon given children’s upbringing.

There are no black-and-white answers here but questions as raised here ought at least to be entertained. A set of pedagogic principles might then offer guidelines to prevent some real-life problem in the first place and offer some guidelines for proceeding when others inevitably do, a working framework capable of modification through experience. This might include, for example:
  • steady and closely observed withdrawal of help, mechanical, electronic, even emotional as children begin to learn how to solve problem for themselves
  • as much attention to reinforcing children’s trying to do something for themselves as might be lavished upon their actual achieving the complete task
  • confident assumption that responsibility of success is wholly to the credit of the learner, while responsibility for failure is always that of the teacher
  • you can only know (‘assess’) what child can learn by finding the best way of teaching them
  • the joy of success is the greatest stimulus to learning (and vice versa for with the bitterness of failure…) and by ‘success’ here I mean the satisfaction in solving one’s own problems, for oneself.

…etc., etc. You can doubtless supply your own.

Technological aids are just tools. We should be very alert to the possibility that these tools, used within no pedagogical framework, may have unintended negative effects, and be continuously on guard to prevent this. ICT no substitute for pedagogy.

Read in full

You might wish to read the full article but e-Learning Today is available on subscription only so you might find it hard to find a copy if you do not subscribe .

Get in touch if you would like me to send you a PDF copy of this article:



I hope to follow up with a further article along the same lines, elaborating its implications for integrating computer-use and pedagogy, and drawing a little this time upon the theoretical formulations of Reuven Feuerstein. Addressing important underlying themes apparent in Conductive Education without actually mentioning CE at all is as interesting exercise that others might consider for the future.

In the meantime, any comments of the use of computers or indeed any other material aids and their implications for pedagogy and upbringing, either in the context of Conductive Education or elsewhere, will be more that welcome.


(1) Please don’t write in asking me the significance of the title. It was not mine!

(2) Granting my hopeless typing skills, it seemed advisable to have this article independently proof-read. In the light of the article’s opening sentence the proof-reader presented me with a small, Chinese, Meccano-style kit from a pound shop.

I had a a most joyful 45 minutes assembling this, not so much marred as deepened by the vivid illustration that this activity afforded about one of the great truths of aging: that deterioration in specific. Performance of activities that require more neuro-dependent skills (including psychomotor, which are definitely slipping) is maintained, held in balance, you could say compensated for, by the broader knowledge, understandings etc that come from ‘experience’, for the moment anyway. You could put that into English by saying that for a while less nimble fingers can still do the business because of greater patience and knowing the tricks!

The finished product will feature as a thumbnail profile photo on my Facebook page.


Sutton, A. (2009) Computers or crutches, e-Learning Today, no 9, November

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