Centres fall well short of teacher hopes

It Is time companies and organisations who put educational resources on the Web realised that education can no longer beconfined to national boundaries. With the Internet, students will look beyond offerings from Britain - they can go anywhere.

So it would be ironic if we concentrated so hard on setting up a networking infrastructure and then found that its main role was to help students escape abroad for the best content. The only thing that will keep people here, looking at UK-relevant websites, is quality - and, so far, that is extremely variable.

The two main British teacher centres on the Web, both still relatively new, are the Virtual Teacher Centre, part of the National Grid for Learning. Run by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), it has been in "prototype" form since opening in January. The other site, Teacher Grid UK, is run jointly by Microsoft, RM plc and BT.

The Virtual Teacher Centre has not been static since being launched, but the movements have been tiny. On the other hand, Teacher Grid UK has changed - and for the worse. Not only has it changed its name, but its usefulness has been reduced as well.

These are supposed to be the flagships from the public and private sectors. If the National Grid for Learning means anything, then it should be reflected here. These are the places to show the vitality and the stimulus, not just to teachers in Britain but to schools all over theworld.

One argument supporting the Virtual Teacher Centre is that it has remained more or less the same so it could be evaluated. But for many, the main criteria for a good site is that it does change and is dynamic - why go back otherwise?

The VTC has improved little. The rather austere design style gives you the impression that you are in an area where you are tolerated rather than welcomed. If it was a real building, it would be cold.

The Literacy Time activity area, which is intended to help deliver the national literacy strategy, impresses. Next year some numeracy material will be added to help with that strategy.

Teachers will hope that the VTCwill become a truly useful resource when the National Grid for Learning finally moves out of its "prototype"stage later this year.

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