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Experts highlight need for Internet literacy

As speakers at the NAACE conference recommend curriculum changes, Chris Johnston reports on the need to keep up with the information age.

Schools will fail their students unless they equip them with the skills to create their own jobs and become independent workers on the Internet, according to a US educational technology expert.

Alan November, senior partner of the Illinois-based Educational Renaissance Planners, told delegates at the National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE) annual conference in Blackpool last month that the move from the industrial to the digital age means many professionals can work anywhere at any time and are no longer office-bound.

However, this shift means that students need to know how to validate and use information available on the Web, making "information literacy" a vital skill for them to learn at school. This, he says, means understanding the Internet's structure and relationships, as well as producing material for websites.

According to Mr November, schools often make students dependent on teachers to learn, which leaves them without the skills needed to be able to learn or work on their own. "Every high school student has got to take at least one course online to learn how to manage learning, without a teacher being in the room," he said. Making this possible are sites such as Virtual High School, where teachers from more than 90 schools take online lessons.

Already the US is finding that there are too few people with the skills needed for the diital age, which Mr November said is a result of an educational system focused on preparing students to go to college or university when they finish school and then work for large organisations.

In a world where technology already allows surgeons to take part in heart operations from another city or continent, Mr November - himself a former teacher - said teachers no longer had to be in the same room as students for them to learn.

He likened the invention of the Internet to the advent of the paperback book and said the Web, by removing the need for students to come together to learn, will destroy the current model of education.

Another speaker at the NAACE conference, Chris Winter, BT's research venture manager, also questioned the future shape of schools. He said children will be able to learn from the best teachers on the Net, making it unnecessary for them to physically attend school five days a week.

Children today regard computers and technology as "part of the furniture" and use them intuitively, rendering information and communications technology a non-subject in schools.

He believes the next generation of Internet millionaires in a decade will be teenagers. To help more children become entrepreneurs, Dr Winter said teachers should ask pupils at an early age what interests them, encourage them to research the topic on the Net and start up a business while they are still at school.

Alan November

Virtual High School


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