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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

THE NEW SEMESTER



A Happy New Year from everyone at KYUEM. I hope you all had a pleasant break with your sons and daughters and that they have returned to us fresh to face the rigours of a new semester. Yesterday, we welcomed a new cohort of 18-month students to the college. I hope they settle in well and enjoy their time with us.

For both juniors and seniors, this semester will be dominated by the prospect of Cambridge AS and A2 examinations and the mock exams that precede them. We are all conscious of the fact that this is a stressful time for everyone and anything that helps to ease that pressure is to be welcomed. Because of the competitive nature of education these days, professionals the world over are constantly seeking ways to alleviate the negative effect of exam stress. I was interested to read this article in a recent edition of the Guardian in the UK. The text looks at ways in which young people can use apps to interact with one another prior to public examinations.  

Many negative comments are made about the misuse of social media these days, but it's comparatively rare for writers to highlight its benefits. If nothing else, interacting with fellow exam candidates from around the world allows young people to see that they are not alone in their concerns. Sharing and talking about them online (provided safeguards are in place to avoid abuse) can be very beneficial. I was interested to read that the creators of the main app mentioned in the article are teachers. I think that as far as older educators are concerned, there is a real need to accept the fact that social media is here to stay and should be embraced whenever its effect is positive or useful.

I also think that platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and the like, perform a very necessary function of allowing people to vent and let off steam - something we all need to do from time to time. The skill is knowing what to say, when and how to do it, however. In my youth, if you got upset about something somebody had said or done, the usual response was to write them an angry letter. You would then put it in an envelope and leave it prominently displayed so you would remember to post it next day. Having slept on the matter, it was quite common in the morning to re-read your letter of the night before and be horrified at the intemperate language used. You might then rewrite it using a more conciliatory tone. This is far less easy to do when a quick click of a button uploads your bile to Twitter or wherever.

I sometimes have to deal with situations where there is more light than heat. Whenever they occur, I apply what I call the 24 rule: I do nothing for a full day, until I am in a calmer frame of mind to to deal with the problem. There is an old saying in English which says you should never "let the sun go down on your wrath." In this case, I disagree. Time spent in reflection can often reduce the force of opinion.

The same can be said of the use of immoderate or offensive language. In the past, swear words and their ilk were a kind of taboo safety valve. When things got really bad, you could always let off steam by having a good curse. Nowadays, when it seems any words and expressions can be used in any context, that safety valve, it seems to me, has been removed. As such, I feel justified in employing my own censorship standards. For example, many of you will know that most of my Facebook friends are former students of KY. The vast majority of posts I receive from them are delightful, informative and fun. For those which are not, I reserve the right to delete them. You will see no words on my wall which would give offence to anyone - or so I sincerely hope.

Occasionally, this is  shame. A year or so ago, a former KY student posted a link to a site called "I f____g love Science!" The title was needlessly, gratuitously offensive, yet the content was really interesting. I can only assume that using the "f" word was meant to shock, or appeal to those who would normally not have looked at such a site. It was, in my opinion, completely unnecessary, and a large number of people would have been turned off in consequence. Courting cheap popularity by using inappropriate language defeats any merit the article or website might otherwise contain.

The freedom of the Internet, at least to me, requires at least a degree of responsibility on the part of the individual. When governments seek to limit Internet access, or even to shut it down, I am profoundly uneasy. State-sponsored communication control leads to Newspeak and all the other horrors of 1984, which Orwell suggested were lurking just around the corner. I hope all our young people at KY, now and in the future, are fully cognizant of their online responsibilities.

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