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Catch the right to train

Four years ago, I argued that "there's no time to waste if we want our children to have the kind of education they will need to take us into a confident and prosperous future...we have, at most, only five years to put in place the basics of training, culture and infrastructure...." Here we are, dozens of initiatives later, forced to wonder exactly how much has been achieved.

It's tempting to see "solutions" as individual objectives. A problem is detected, the solution identified and then implemented. I think the jump in the percentage of secondary schools, where Internet connections have grown from 83 per cent to 98 per cent between 1998 and 2000, has obviously to be regarded as a good thing. But what does it mean? A single modem in the school office? Where is the analysis?

The Government has rightly identified the need to dramatically improve the opportunities for every child, of a new kind of learning, through the use of advanced technology. Significant investment has followed.

But just as employability can no longer be guaranteed by a one-hit wonder called an education, (relying instead on a series of "booster shots" throughout life - lifelong learning) so governments must start to look, not just for the quick fix, but for sustainable solutions to national problems that are rooted in education.

Technology is, in itself, a bridge to learning rather than a destination; and a critical factor to the successful introduction of new learning tools is the involvement of a brilliant teacher. But how we ensure those teachers are brilliant remains a matter for debate.

The increase in the number of teachers receiving ICT training from 45 per cent to 60 per cent between 1998 and 2000 is a start - but, as one teacher said to me recently: "Yes, it was helpful - like being taught the alphabet. But you need more than a grasp of the alphabet to teach Shakespeare!" By and large, the integration of the technology into daily classroom practice isn't happenig anything like fast enough. The sooner the teaching profession demands a quality of training that the private sector regards as the norm, the sooner a more sustainable model of training and learning will be developed.

Once we've gone beyond the speeding up of single functions into whole school connectivity, we've got to look at the necessary implications for classroom - and school - management. The model of 30 children in neat rows facing a single teacher is (or should be) an anachronism in the era of video-conferencing, email and whiteboard technology. Why shouldn't children be helped to learn French by French children in French schools, and physics by Nobel prize winners?

The fight for an entitlement to lifelong, professional learning must start within the teaching profession itself. Once teachers are united in their belief in the need to continuously update their own skill set, only then will the profession be in a position to demand continuing professional development (CPD) as an entitlement.

It's been my privilege over the last three years to visit hundreds of schools and meet the teachers. However, the profession has some way to go before recognising CPD as being very much for its own benefit, rather than yet another addition to an endless list of responsibilities and impositions sent from on high.

As we enter the new millennium, I feel a tremendous sense of excitement and hope. We're staring at a unique opportunity to encourage the potential for technology and pedagogy to grow together, we're enjoying an atmosphere of political commitment supported by some, albeit in my personal view, still inadequate funding. What else do we need, except confidence and self-belief to get on with a job that we all love?

This is a truncated version of David Puttnam's TES Keynote Speech for the Becta ICT in Practice Awards at the BETT educational technology show in January. The full speech is on the TES Online website

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