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Bugs and lack of kit hamper ICT

Computers, surely, are routine for most pupils and teachers - but more so for some than others, a national study has revealed, as ministers this week lauded the progress of ICT in schools.

Researchers say teachers and their students work daily with computers in and out of school and know and can do much more than they did six years ago. But some secondary departments remain hostile to the idea of using ICT to support learning.

A "significant proportion" of secondary teachers are also lukewarm about the drive on ICT across the curriculum and blame a shortage of up-to-date classroom computers and software and a succession of technical failures.

There is often no certainty about using computers.

The findings of the Strathclyde University study into the impact of ICT, funded by the Scottish Executive, coincide with this week's SETT show in Glasgow. The national ICT showpiece highlights the positive uses of new technology in schools, and provided the stage on Wednesday for the pound;37 million contract to launch the Scottish schools intranet.

Yet, the researchers say, despite the considerable advances in technology, pupils tend to use computers for writing reports and essays and preparing presentations. Standard work is word processing, graphics and searching the internet. The use of computers to support learning is "very patchy". In primaries, most classrooms have a number of computers for pupils which are used throughout the day for many purposes. Even then, "pupils' interest in and enthusiasm for using computers was still not being met in school".

The researchers said: "In secondary schools, fewer classrooms had more than one or two computers (other than computing or business studies classrooms), and most relied on scheduling time at the computer suitelab. Technical failures and the inadequacy of what was available caused frustration for both pupils and teachers."

Over 90 per cent of teachers and pupils have access to computers out of school but a small "educationally significant" number do not. As in the two previous surveys in 1999 and 2001, teachers tend to use computers for work, while pupils are more likely to experiment and play games. A lot of learning takes places out of school and many younger pupils confess they learned much of what they know at home, the latest study of P7, S2 and S4 pupils reveals.

It confirms that more young people are using digital cameras and phones and MP3 players to link in with the home computers. Even teachers are more receptive to such developments than they were a few years ago, although administration and preparing lessons are their keyboard priority.

In special computer tests, the researchers found an increasing awareness and understanding across all ages and stages compared with previous studies. But, like the school inspectors, they found little difference between P7 and S2, despite the extra two years of schooling.

"Performance levels at the two stages showed considerable overlap. The differences between S2 and S4 were significant and in line with the age difference," the Strathclyde team reports.

The Impact of ICT Initiatives in Scottish Schools: Phase 3 - Final Report is by Rae Condie, Bob Munro, David Muir and Robert Collins of the education faculty at Strathclyde University. It is available on the Scottish Executive publications website.

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