A clock face on Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben, is seen without its hour and minute hands as conservation work continues on the Houses of Parliament on April 12 in London.  (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
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Some British schools are replacing analog clocks with digital ones because kids can’t read them — but it’s not a problem singular to Britain. Plenty of Americans kids can’t read them either.

British teachers recently tweeted that schools are changing the clocks, sometimes in rooms where important exams are taken, so students don’t waste time asking how much time is left.

The Telegraph recently quoted Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, as saying:

“They are used to seeing a digital representation of time on their phone, on their computer. Nearly everything they’ve got is digital, so youngsters are just exposed to time being given digitally everywhere. … Schools will inevitably be doing their best to make young children feel as relaxed as [they] can be. There is actually a big advantage in using digital clocks in exam rooms, because it is much less easy to mistake a time on a digital clock when you are working against time.”

A 2017 survey in Oklahoma City found that only 1 in 10 children ages 6 to 12 owned a watch, which made sense, given that only 1 in 5 could read the analog versions.

In 2015, a story on the British Wondrous Ink blog said:

Recently I’ve been invigilating GCSEs [monitoring tests] at a local secondary school in Surrey. Over the course of a few exams I noticed that, despite there being a huge clock at the front of the hall, half the kids kept craning their heads to look at the clock at the back of the hall.

I asked the exams officer if she’d noticed too and why they keep doing it. “Because they can’t tell the time on a normal clock,” she said. “They can only tell the time on a digital one, so they look at that one even though it’s slow.”

On Dec. 14, 2014, an Arizona teacher wrote a post about kids and clocks on the Stories From School AZ blog with this headline: “Should We Still Teach Analog Clocks?” It said in part:

On Friday, my colleague Steve Andre wrote in a staff wide email that he was considering teaching how to tell time on an analog clock to his seventh grade computer students because they can’t read the one on his wall when they sign out with a pass. On one hand, Steve was for it because analog clocks are still prevalent so it’s still a relevant life skill. But he adds that people don’t wear analog watches so much, and analog clocks’ days are numbered. He wanted our opinions on the matter.

Our opinions, and those of outside friends who have joined the discussion, crossed emotional, pedagogic, and philosophical lines. Emotionally, many were dismayed at the loss of this skill, one was even “appalled.” Many teachers were frustrated because the clocks on our classroom walls are analog, so kids need to know analog time. (I wonder why they’re not frustrated that our facilities are stuck in the 20th Century or that half of the clocks don’t work anyway.) One bridged the emotional — pedagogic divide by expressing the frustration of teaching a skill that first or second graders are not developmentally ready for.

The top results of a Google search for “wall clocks for schools” on May 2, 2018, were all for analog clocks, and it included five pictures — all analog.

After the Guardian reported the news of the change in clocks, the newspaper ran an editorial saying that it was not time to ditch analog clocks:

Telling the time by a pattern of hands on a dial is part of the primary school curriculum. And rightly so, because of the computational gymnastics involved. Reading an analogue clock is a cognitive workout, requiring attribution of different values to the same 12 symbols, interpreted on three parallel planes — seconds, minutes, hours. Only with practice does this awesome mental feat come to feel easy.