Autocorrect 4 eva? Technology won't kill off spelling and grammar

And teaching it shouldn't just be a Conservative project

Share
Related Topics

To update an 18th-century George Berkeley thought experiment: If a spelling mistake is typed out but – thanks to autocorrect or spellcheck – nobody except the author ever sees it, has anything worth worrying about actually happened?

No, not in the slightest, says Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University. Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, a deeply-relaxed Prof Mitra floated the idea that teaching children correct spelling and grammar was “unnecessary” in 2013, since “my phone corrects my spelling” and “I often skip grammar”.

Whether Prof Mitra was aware that his comments would see crockery smashed in the living rooms of a thousand TES subscribers, it’s hard to say. That he has a pretty good idea of how technological advances will change teaching is less of an open question. This year, Prof Mitra was awarded the $1m TED prize for his vision of how “cloud computing” could help children in different corners of the world learn from each other. He epitomises, to no small degree, education 2.0.

So to grouse with Professor might seem both technophobic and prissy. But there are two reasons why I think he’s wrong.

First, how much responsibility for language use are we comfortable delegating to computers? Personally, I am happy to outsource reading maps to an iPhone. But the prospect of letting an algorithm act as a substitute English teacher seems far more dispiriting. For one, the solecisms of autocorrect have earned whole websites of ridicule – “divorce” swapped for “Disney”, “gunman” for “gunna”. Then, wouldn’t it be faintly shameful to know that in everything you write, your computer is constantly, silently babying you?

My second objection is this: learning Standard Written English (SWE) pays dividends. Prof Mitra understands computer code. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about SWE as a dialect in the same vein. Mess up your Java or CSS and the programme you’re building won’t work. Send a cover letter for a job with poor English in it and you most likely won’t be hearing back. (Spellcheck can stop you making howlers, but it can’t improve your style.)

Aside from the rise of autocorrect, opposition to teaching SWE often states that it is a stuffy form of Standard White English, and that it entrenches privilege. It is and it does. That’s why the way it is presented to multicultural, tech-savvy classrooms is so very important.

Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms have planted a Conservative flagpole in raising SWE standards. Sadly, the party line seems to be that SWE is a superior or ideal form of the language, harking back to the good old days of Albion. I would like to see it sold to young people more democratically – as one language among many, but a useful one, and a damn sight better than autocorrect.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor