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After the revolution we all went home and stared at our computers

Week 1

Wake up early and go to college. Actually, I don't log on; I get the bus to a local FE provider and meet my tutor. An affable man, but he reminds me that this will be the only time we meet until I choose to be tested. He seems determined not to get to know me. I notice his hands are badly stained by white board markers - scars from before the revolution.

Then he passes me an envelope of course details and I suddenly feel like a spy. An induction ensues followed by a "hands on" practice session and that's it. I am on my own. I go home to class. I log on and have another look through the course overview. It is a level 2 IT course with eight units covering things such as spreadsheets, databases and basic wordprocessing. It is oddly named: "European Computer Driving License". It has nothing to do with driving. Learning materials are supported by downloadable exercises. When ready, the candidate returns to the college to take a test for each unit. You may take one or all on the same day if you want. I plan to save on bus fare and do the lot in one sitting.

Week 2

It has been two weeks since I started and this is only the third time I have logged on. I forgot to mention that I access the virtual classroom via the Internet which connects me with something called "learning space". Hey presto! I feel empowered but that might just be the coffee. The computer crashes and so I give up. Flexible learning is what they call it.

Week 3

Another week has passed. Today I got an email from my tutor asking how I was doing. Learning space allows me to ask questions if I have any. Nifty. There is also a call centre that I can ring if I have any problems. I am about to reply to my tutor when the computer crashes again. Shit! I give up and take the dog for a walk.

Week 4

I'm iscouraged because I can't seem to find time around my job to take this damn course. I need the qualification though, or do I? I think about the endowment policy I was sold and wonder if I have made the same mistake twice.

Yippee, I am on my way, learning online. No crashes and I've completed a few spreadsheet exercises. I'm feeling empowered without coffee. Then I remember the course room - a sort of chat room where other online learners may post a message or two. I suddenly want to know what everyone else is up to and so introduce myself - after all we are in the same class. I also send a message to my tutor about a possible anomaly that I have discovered. It appears that an exercise may be missing. I am coy about this not wishing to appear rude.

I check the course room. There is a note from my tutor. "Yes, sorry, we forgot to put the exercise in."

Don't feel like learning, flexible or otherwise and log off but not before buying a book on Windows 2000 from Amazon.com. With my luck it will arrive with a chapter missing.

Week 5

It has been a month since I started. No one is talking to me in the course room yet. I feel alienated and alone but confident now that I could pass the spreadsheets test.

Week 6

I have struck up a friendship with a cutlery salesman in Redbridge who is also taking the course. He is doing better than me and plans to take at least four of the unit tests soon. I am jealous and confused. Everything between us relates to our studies at first but then he tentatively enquires about the age and state of my utensils. I log off, yearning for the sweet voice of my sixth-form English teacher whose peach-coloured V-neck sweater was a key text in my adolescence. This is no fun at all and I don't need steak knives to cheer me up.

Don Short


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