Bett 2006

Educational ICT has come a long way in a short time. The journey to where we are now has had many twists and turns, and occasionally stumbled down a blind alley, but there is much to celebrate. Since 1998, when the programme to create a National Grid for Learning was launched, the profile of ICT in education has been transformed - and many teachers and students are using it in bold and imaginative ways.

Research by the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa) shows a dramatic increase in desktop computers in UK primary and secondary schools in the past four years. But educational ICT isn't simply about numbers.

Nigel Ward, managing director of Granada Learning, says: "Many have been guilty of seeing the benefits of ICT only in the area of curriculum materials and their delivery, instead of seeing ICT as a tool to transform whole-school practice and delivery. This lack of vision is directly contributing to the lack of confidence and evidence in this area."

Some believe, for example, that there has been too much discussion on how to increase the number of interactive whiteboards in schools, without addressing fundamental questions, such as: "What is it we want to achieve educationally with ICT?"

Curriculum Online and the e-learning credits (eLCs) scheme have made a big impact on the educational software market. The government has announced an extra pound;175 million for eLCs, bringing the total funding to pound;200 million over the next two years; they account for roughly 70 per cent of software expenditure for schools in England, and around 57 per cent for all UK schools. The question is how this funding will be ring-fenced. With the education White Paper promising schools greater autonomy, and a move from ring-fencing ICT expenditure to it being part of the overall Standards Fund, there is concern that the amount some schools invest in ICT could fall significantly (see Edict, page 8).

Recently, there has been a switch in emphasis in government policy for ICT in schools. In 2002, the NGFL became the ICT in Schools programme.

Government strategies and documents, such as Transforming the Way We Learn, Fulfilling the Potential, Towards a Unified E-learning Strategy and the five-year strategy for children and learners, all mark a fundamental shift in the way ICT is viewed in education. "The talk is now of an 'e-confident school'," says Malcolm Hunt, assistant director for evidence and evaluation at technology agency Becta. "It's about ICT becoming embedded across the whole school and becoming ubiquitous and not just a bolt-on."

Nigel Ward says: "At BETT 2006, we should start to see more evidence of ICT software and services that are being (or are able to be) embedded in practice."

For David Burrows, director of education at Microsoft, the theme will be educational transformation. "How can ICT transform teaching and learning?"

he asks.

Tim Pearson, chief executive of RM, sees a move towards greater integration. "Today, schools have a pile of disparate systems that don't talk to each other. We'll be making a greater effort to integrate them," he says. This is why there is much interest in learning platforms or learning environments (p62), which integrate curriculum content, learning resources, assessment and feedback systems, and open the way to e-portfolios and anytime, anywhere learning.

Many are excited by the potential for ICT to offer personalised learning.

Educational consultant Professor Stephen Heppell says: "The one-size-fits-all strategy is dead - it's about personalisation."

We have travelled a long way, but many issues remain. Besa's survey, for example, shows that well over a third of teachers still don't feel confident about using ICT - and that it is still being mainly used in key subjects, such as English and maths.

A Becta survey found that only 11 per cent of schools were "e-enabled institutions". Standardisation is blocking developments such as learning platforms and a National Education Network (see Web Extra on our website), although progress has been made. And there is still a digital divide.

Malcolm Hunt says: "The challenge is to work on the pedagogy for products like hand-held computers." Ray Barker, Besa's director, says: "Nothing will happen until the assessment system changes and exams aren't done with a pen and paper." But overall he is upbeat: "I'm positive about what the government has done in investing in ICT and getting the infrastructure in place. Now we have to move on to the next phase."

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