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Brave new world of computing

It is 50 years ago since the birth of the computer - but its greatest impact on teaching is yet to come.

And it might not all be good news for teachers. Mark Campbell, a teacher at Ravensbury primary school, Manchester, was one of 24 celebrities and members of the public interviewed by University of Manchester researchers during the golden anniversary celebrations.

Fifty years after Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn from the university ran the first program on their room-sized machine - called Baby - Campbell has a nightmare view of the future.

"I see cameras in every classroom and inspectors sat before ranks of monitors able to look in on any lesson," he said.

On a less paranoid note he believes the classroom of the future will develop to accommodate information technology and children will be more at ease with the technology than they are today.

ICL, the IT systems and services company, predicts education will become a lifelong process where people are trained and retrained as technology advances. Children will have online access not only to their school but every educational establishment, including museums and libraries. They will be able to put the equivalent of the British Library in their pocket or in the "cyber wrist band".

A glimpse of the future can be found at The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester where in a digital gallery all the academic institutions in the city are linked and video-quality material can be downloaded in volume.

Training is being offered to keep teachers abreast of developments and give them an insight into the capabilities of technology.

Professor Tom Hinchliffe, former managing director of ICL in Manchester, believes that in the classroom of the future computers will be much more available and more user-friendly. The chief means of communicating with them will be by voice.

"The computer will be able to learn the individual characteristics of the children they are teaching," he said. "The artificial intelligence of the computer will be able to coach a child at his or her rate."

Professor Hinchliffe says the teacher will have an overseeing role and will be freed to concentrate on children's weaker areas.

Professor Hilary Kahn, professor of computer science at the University of Manchester, said in education - from primary school to university - students will be much more familiar with computers and will be more sophisticated users.

She said university research and the way students network through the World Wide Web, e-mail, video conferencing and satellite links are already revolutionising the approach to research. These skills will increasingly work their way into classrooms.

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