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Hang Ups

I wasn't there myself but my source is usually reliable. It's a Year 6 classroom on a gloomy afternoon and the class is racing to produce the termly newsletter, frenetically at work with computers, scanners, a printer and a digital camera. In the midst of all this purposeful hubbub, sits the headmaster.

He is on one of his rare visits to their classroom, but can't be of any help to the children: word processing, DTP and anything involving new technology have always been a mystery to him. But he has plucked up the courage to commandeer one of the PCs and is now totally engrossed in the talking book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

It isn't that the story is new to him, or that he particularly wants to hear Daphne Oxenford read it in her best Listen with Mother voice. But he has discovered to his absolute delight that if he perseveres with the mouse for long enough, he can make things happen on the screen. Fruit magically appear on the trees; sharks poke their snouts out of the porridge; surprised elephants belly-flop out of the sky. He wouldn't have felt prouder if he'd invented the computer himself.

The only problem is that he's a school teacher and feels compelled to share each new discovery with his pupils. "Look at this! Look at this!" he yells, and dutifully a bunch of pupils troops over to humour him.

"I can make mice appear from holes in the skirting. See! Yeah!" "Very clever, Sir," they say politely and sneak back to their own machines, where they are merging files, flowing text round complicated graphics and generally pushing the hardware and software to its limits.

This little scene illustrates the dilemma at the heart of all discussions about the role of IT in education. In the main, children are simply better at it than adults and seem to be able to learn new skills at an alarming rate. Many adults, on the other hand, confront the computer with all the panache of a rabbit squaring up to a weasel.

This difference in ability makes a nonsense of the traditional processes of schooling which are based on the fundamental assumption that kiddies don't know as much as grown-ups. But if age is no indication of aptitude or expertise, how can teachers be sure that a software package is going to be suitable in the primary classroom?

Content, of course, is important. So Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with all its multimedia wizardry is ideal for early readers. But when it comes to DTP, little children with big ideas won't be satisfied with kids' stuff.

It's not surprising then that the PC version of Talking Textease won an Educational Computing and Technology Gold Award for primary software at the BETT 97 show earlier this month. The package (which creates files that can be run equally well on PC or Acorn) has most of the functions - including a spell-checker - that you'd expect in any decent word-processor.

What's more, it speaks. You can select whether to hear the words as you type them, or to postpone the treat until you've completed a sentence or paragraph. It also has useful DTP features. Every word can be dragged around the screen or rotated and you can add graphics.

Textease is perfect for the primary classroom: it is sophisticated enough to meet pupils' demands, but at the same time so easy to operate that even a headmaster could learn to use it. Eventually.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears from Europress, 0800 454330; Textease from Softease, 01332 204911


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