5 minutes with Johnny Ball

A man with a reputation for merging education and entertainment, many of us have grown up with Johnny Ball a regular upon our screens. The RAF man turned entertainer turned maths and science whiz will be speaking at the Sunday Times Festival of Education, but he took a five-minute break out of his busy day to answer a few questions…

Johnny BallYou struggled at school and left with two ‘O’ levels. How do you think we can make education work for kids today?

“Today you can Google absolutely anything and get a pretty good rundown of any topic you can think of. You need at least one teacher in every school who will go the extra mile. The more a child wants to learn, the teacher must be there irrespective of curriculum. They must be there to teach them what they want to learn at that very moment.”

Did you ever want to be a teacher yourself?

“No, I didn’t really have the background. I’d been a stand-up comedian for 12 years and I worked at Butlins for 3 years and I’d worked for social security in Liverpool for 15 months. So my social skills, my skills to communicate with people were honed, but without a strong educational base I had to research everything.”

Some people worry kids are more interested in computer games than school. Does this worry you?

“Most of us take in a hobby and we indulge in it. It might be anything – alcohol, chess, make-up – and it’s the same with computer games. As long as you keep moving and learning it’s fine, but after a while you’re only building on your knowledge of that one thing and it’s not advancing your knowledge of anything else. As an experience a game is a lovely thing, but you need variety and the trouble is we can get stuck into a groove and be one-trick ponies. That’s a great danger because we are all capable of so many things…”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I’m president of the Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead theatrical society, in a Joggers and Walkers group and president of the Farham Common community library. The council were going to close it because of a shortage of staffing, but there were lots of people retirement age who were happy to do an afternoon or a few hours in the library. It’s staffed by us – the volunteers – and it’s tremendous.”

What advice would you give to the youngsters of today?

“I’d tell them that the confidence I built after my own failure at school has grown and grown. It’s a confidence gained through working hard and it has enabled me to still want to be working at 76, to still want to be doing what I’ve always done. It’s the joy of there being no boundaries to what I can learn and what I can be involved in. It’s the greatest thing.”

Johnny Ball is appearing at the Sunday Times Festival of Education, 21-22 June. http://www.festivalofeducation.com/

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