Friday, 6 March 2015

"For blackberry, read Blackberry"

During a scroll through my Twitter newsfeed this week, I came across an article that I found rather alarming and I know I'm not alone in my reaction. According to this article from The Guardian, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has had a 50-word cull of terms relating to nature in an attempt to make the revised edition more relatable to the "modern child". Words such as "acorn" "otter" "newt" and "heron" have been removed to make way for "broadband" "chatroom" and "database". 

Granted, in a dictionary containing 10,000 entries, 400 of those are related to the natural world but that's not the point. We live in a time where the majority of the first-world population owns at least one hand-held digital device and information is accessible without lifting more than a finger. This does NOT mean that the natural world is any less important and therefore any less worthy of teaching to our children. Surely, at the age of seven, children have more of a need to know about the wildlife they might encounter on their walk to school or while playing in the garden than being able to explain what the definition of a "celebrity" is. 
There lies the biggest problem though. Children are spending less and less time outside exploring, playing and exercising in the fresh air. Many would rather stay inside on laptops and tablets than kick a ball around a field or climb a tree. The decision to remove 50 words related to nature from the OJD is a reflection of this changed attitude. However, as I type this there are endless initiatives, such as Project Wild Thing, underway to try and encourage children to spend more time outdoors, not only to get them more interested in nature but to dispel the ongoing threat of childhood obesity. Of course there is a balance between technology and nature but in the state we are currently in, the latter holds more importance for a seven year-old child, in my opinion. 

"...we should remember that the Junior Dictionary may be one of the few dictionaries a child will ever encounter, and that the selection will influence his or her use of language for life." Henry Porter, the Guardian 

I can perhaps understand slightly outdated words being given the elbow, but "raven" "tulip" and "catkin"? Even in this modern digital era, these things still exist and children referring to this dictionary will not have access to a definition for any of these terms; instead these seven year-olds will be able to define "celebrity" "database" and "democratic". These aren't words that take precedence at such a young age, surely? 

 "The Oxford Dictionaries have a rightful authority and a leading place in cultural life. We believe the OJD should address these issues and that it should seek to help shape children’s understanding of the world, not just to mirror its trends" Laurence Rose, RSPB 

There's been quite a bit of outrage expressed online over the decision to remove so many relevant words from the OJD. Part of the defence from Oxford University Press is that the environment that children grow up in has changed: they are living in more urban and suburban areas, rather than open countryside where they might encounter various animals, plants and flowers. However, this to me is even more reason for them to be made aware of these words, because what is education if not to inform us about things we have never seen?

 I don't currently have any children but should I be fortunate enough in the future, I would 100% rather they know what a conker is over a chatroom.

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