Global house-warming

Merlin John Editor, Computers Update

Right now there are two good reasons for talking up technology anticipation of an election, and 63 shopping days to Christmas. The political parties have discovered that Downing Street is another service station on the superhighway and the computer industry, fresh from its overwhelming launch of its decidedly underwhelming Windows 95, is brazenly beating the education drum in the pre-Christmas marketplace for those anxious parents wanting to give their children an educational advantage.

There is now a general acceptance of the importance of information technology for education and employment. Which is why Tony Blair's pledge to give all students a laptop computer and to connect schools, hospitals and libraries to the "information superhighway" was so well received. Whether he should have said palmtops rather than laptops (page 6) is an argument already going on in education. And whether Labour would be tough enough to extract a high enough price from British Telecom for what would be a licence to print money remains to be seen.

Parents too are locking horns with technology computer manufacturers now sell as many machines into homes as into business (see opposite page). In much the same way, schools are moving into communications and the Internet. Despite the scaremongering (pages 20-21), many schools are already taking out subscriptions to services like Research Machines' Internet for Learning, or BT's CampusWorld.

The influence of the home market on education is already being felt. Of the thousands of CD-Roms on the market, relatively few are suitable for classroom use because they were designed for the home.

What teachers and parents need now is practical information. Which CD-Roms work best in class? Which work best in the home? And where is the common ground? Some of the most successful discs seem equally effective at home or in a school library or nursery (page 12).

This is where the roles of Government-funded organisations such as the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) or voluntary organisations such as Learning for Life with Technology (Lift, page 25) become crucial.

Just as important is the need for education publishers to cater for the home market (page 27). With telecommunications, the potential home market for many publishers rapidly expands to every home in the world that has a telephone line. The problem is that the schools market is small and the cost of developing CD-Roms and IT learning packages is high. Which is why Kenneth Baker MP suggests a Government initiative so they could be as respected and successful in this global market as they have been with text books and courses worldwide (page 26).

As schools IT matures, it seems, the immediate need is for pioneering init-iatives like the Schools OnLine project (ComputersIT, TES2 page 15) and organisations like the NCET and Lift to provide the research feedback on what actually works in class and the home. Meanwhile the politicians can get on with the horse-trading to establish the infrastructure the information superhighway itself. Somehow the rest of us will have to keep up.

Merlin John Editor, Computers Update

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Merlin John Editor, Computers Update

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