Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Children must be seen and not heard

The EU is clearly enamoured with Victorian views of education. Or, at least, with what we think of as Victorian views of education, the best known of which was the famous saying “children must be seen and not heard”.

There cannot be another reason for the recent announcement by Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, as the Daily Telegraph acknowledges:

“But the education sector is a hidden source of risk, said Mr Konkolewsky,especially where today's more raucous pupils are housed in hard-floored, echoing Victorian classrooms, built for the days when children sat silently, copying from a blackboard.”

Well, I expect we can go back to that delightful system.

According to him when Directive 2002/49/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise comes into effect next year, all primary and nursery schools as well as day care centres and playgroups across the European Union will have to conduct a noise level assessment.

If the level in any of these institutions is found to be above 80 decibels (and almost all will be), the heads, managers, owners, what have you will be legally obliged to do something about it.

What will they be legally obliged to do?

“Actions required could involve fitting acoustic tiles on classroom ceilings,giving staff longer breaks or reducing class sizes, said Mr Konkolewsky.”

And if none of that worked? Would they be obliged to contain the children in something resembling those wonderful pens that Romanian orphanages had and, for all one knows, still have? I’ll bet on this score Romania is ready to join the European Union tomorrow.

This little problem was foreseen by some of us. I am very pleased to say that when the first news came through of proposed and rapidly implemented EU legislation to reduce the noise level of toys, I suggested that it is children they need to ban. After all, as every parent knows, the biggest noise of all comes from the little angels themselves.

It has taken the EU a couple of years but it has caught up. I cannot wait to see how they will implement this particular aspect of the Noise Directive and what will happen when, as is inevitable, much needed nursery and play group facility will disappear because small children will not stay quiet.

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