Can you imagine spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a new healthcare system without bothering to get any doctors involved in its development? This is what's happening as we rush to launch educational broadband services like Curriculum Online. There's a lot of excitement over high-capacity broadband networks and rightly so; their potential to transform teaching and learning in schools, between schools and between schools and the community is enormous. But despite all the talk about the development of broadband services one important group has been consistently ignored: teachers.
Teachers are creative people. They also work with the people who use educational materials every day - pupils - which gives them a unique insight into what works in the classroom. They know what stimulates learning and motivates children - and what bores them. Yet most teachers creating compelling content have had to invest in their own equipment, create their own resources and spend precious spare time learning to write code or develop websites.
Innovative teachers should be cherished and encouraged to use their creative skills by being given the time to create outside the classroom. In the current educational climate, where teachers are deserting the profession and recruitment is a battle, it's not easy to take teachers out of the classroom. But if developments like Curriculum Online are to be a success, we have to find the time to allow teachers to create and innovate.
It's not as if creative teachers are not out there: there are teachers like Mark Cogan, who runs a site with amazing maths games (www.primarygames.co.uk); Gareth Pitchford, an adviser in Toxteth whose site was so popular his web-hosting company had to shut it down briefly because their server couldn't cope with the demand (www.primaryresources.co.uk); and the By Teachers site (www.byteachers.org.uksites.htm), a federation of teachers who create content using ICT websites.
Andrew Moore has created a definitive Shakespeare site (www.shunley.eril.netarmoore) and Andrew Field has created an interactive history site (www.schoolhistory.co.uk). And these are just a few examples. One wonders how many more wonderfully creative teachers are not being given the opportunity to develop great ideas because they can't find the time, energy or resources to do so.
Education today suffers from "narrowband" thinking. We see developments like Curriculum Online in terms of schools simply downloading content. But there's more to education than that even if the content is great. Teaching and learning should be proactive and that means using broadband in creative ways. This includes schools creating and publishing their own content and using the technology to connect and interact with others. For example, why aren't teachers forming online forums to discuss pupils' work and using online whiteboard systems to chat and exchange examples of children's work?
I predict that in two years many children will be making their own media and some schools will be broadcasting their own TV channels over broadband; King's Cross Action Zone is already broadcasting over the Net. We should be encouraging this type of development because it's only by creating their own media that children can fully understand how the media works and how it can shape their viewpoint on the world.
It's widely agreed that National Opportunities Fund (NOF) training has not been the success it might have been. I was shocked when someone who had attended a NOF programme admitted she felt less confident than she did before the training. People often forget the one barrier to using ICT is not having the skills to cope with times when, say, the printer doesn't work. Teachers shouldn't assume ICT means they suddenly lack many of the skills to be good classroom teachers. If you look at a primary lesson about, for example, using a Roamer (a floor robot), the teacher does a lot of teaching before the kids get anywhere near the equipment.
Many teachers need to realise they still have marvellous communication skills and that's essentially what teaching is all about. ICT is just another tool we can use to help teaching and learning, but it's not a god; just because you have computers in a classroom doesn't mean you have to use them all the time.
I believe broadband should be about making connections between people and between communities. We should never forget that teaching is a human-based activity; we need to communicate and the technology should help us to do that, not become a barrier. But if we are really going to make the most of the opportunities of broadband, we need to give the teachers who are both educators and creators a chance to shine.
Leon Cych teaches at All Souls Primary School in Westminster and is currently on secondment to Digital Classics. He is also the author of MX Express, a guide to using Flash technology for beginners, published by Friends of Ed. For a limited period, TES readers can order it at a 30 per cent discount from http:computer-manuals.co.ukadG53. Leon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leon Cych was talking to George Cole