News Item

Society "Sedated By Software", Needs Nav Skills Taught At School

RIN President calls for schools to teach map-reading.

Growing dependence on smartphones and satellite navigation systems to find our way threatens the future for basic map reading and compass knowledge, the Royal Institute of Navigation is warning.

Roger McKinlay, president of the institute, says society is becoming “sedated by software” as it loses both a practical skill and spur to self-reliance.

The institute wants UK schools to encourage the teaching of basic navigation as a way to develop character, independence and an appreciation of maths and science.

“It is concerning that children are no longer routinely learning at home or school how to do anything more than press ‘search’ buttons on a device to get anywhere.

“Many cannot read a landscape, an ordnance survey map, or find their way to a destination with just a compass, let alone wonder at the amazing role astronomy plays in establishing a precise location.

“Instead, generations are now growing up utterly dependent on signals and software to find their way around.

“But much more is being lost. Traditional navigation skills encourage independent thought based on calculation and self-reliance, and have throughout history. Fortunately, Captain Cook did not wait for a sat nav signal to reach South East
Australia.

“Global positioning satellites are a great innovation, but they are turning course setting by instrument and calculation, which has guided how civilisation developed, into little more than a heritage talent.

“As anyone who has struggled to get a signal, or wondered why their sat nav has turned them ‘left’ when ‘right’ was plainly correct knows, technology cannot always be relied upon.

“The trained human brain is infinitely better in a crisis at working out a sensible route and taking in all relevant data, such as weather and terrain.”

The institute, whose patron is the Duke of Edinburgh and current membership includes Polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, wants to widen an understanding of core navigation skills.

“Nations including ours grew wealthy and strong in part due to a drive for exploration that relied on navigation. The skills we are shrugging off are part of our collective DNA.

Mr McKinlay said an unquestioned consensus that computers are "the fountain of all knowledge" is part of the problem.

“It is also hard to escape the view that one reason navigation skills are not taught is that it takes people from a controllable classroom, indoors, to the world outside.

There is a wider issue than navigation here. Our view is that reliance on computers presents no conceptual challenges.

The human brain is left largely inert and untaxed while calculations are made electronically, by a software ‘brain’ without the elasticity to make connections and judgements.”

For media enquiries on this story, email: editor@rin.org.uk

  • 01 May 2015
  • RIN

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