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A chance missed to link schools to the Net?

Good morning, world. Or maybe it's afternoon, or even evening. We are now being read simultaneously in different time zones because, as of today, The TES is on the Internet with its own site on the World Wide Web (https:www.tes.co.uk).

Whether you are reading this on newsprint in a staffroom or on a 73 bus in Liverpool, or on a computer screen via a modem in Sydney, the message is the same - the world is shrinking, and quickly. At a stroke, The TES now has a global readership.

It's a pleasure to be here and we look forward to serving and collaborating with readers old and new in the innovative range of ways afforded to us by the technology and the global networks (see page 4)

The move on to international networks is something that these pages have advocated and predicted for years, but the results are still unpredictable - that's why the Net worries some people and excites many more. That's why, in government circles, it's regarded as a "wicked" issue. Yes, they really do use that term - not as in evil, but something that cuts across departments, ie cannot be easily controlled. But for netizens the term would be "well wicked".

There's a simple formula: the more people who are on the Net, the richer it becomes. Organisations such as The TES know we have to be here - even if we are not sure how it will develop - because any public forum is also a marketplace, and this one is huge. But more important for education, the Internet is the greatest marketplace ever for ideas andinformation, the bread and butter of any education system.

As people make their way to BETT 97, a priority question they are asking is, "When is everyone else going to get on the Net?" The Scottish Council for Educational Technology has the obvious answer: "As soon as possible." So the council has pledged to help all Scottish schools, colleges and teachers to get Internet access of one kind or another by the end of this year. But what about the rest of the UK? Most of the 5,000 or so schools and colleges on the Net are there despite the Government. No matter what the politicians claim (see pages 8-9), there is still no coherent, convincing strategy to get schools on-line.

The organisation that should be spearheading education's move on to the Net, the National Council for Educational Technology, is due for reorganisation this year, but don't hold your breath. The incumbent NCET chief executive, Margaret Bell, brought to the organisation an openness and directness that was a breath of fresh air to quango-watchers. But even she can do little when held back by the dead hand of the Department for Education and Employment. For the NCET is effectively strangled by its umbilical cord to a department that can't even provide it with the data it needs to plan action. At the end of December we were still waiting for the results of the regular department survey of information technology in schools (sampled in April). Either they have their own problems with computers or there is something they don't want us to know.

The NCET knows it needs change. It already holds some of the keys to help teachers into the information age but, until it is given more independence and is less insular, it will never be able to develop the profile, character, flair and responsiveness to engage with schools. That is the big difference between the NCET and its Scottish counterpart. Scotland will take the high road and English and Welsh schools will take the No road. And the Net and UK schools will be the poorer for it. Maybe the policy makers should talk to young people. The Internet isn't wicked - it's well wicked.

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