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How the Net helps us to think

Chris Abbott talks to Ron Beyers, director of technology at St Alban's College, Pretoria, South Africa

Which information technology product - software or hardware - has made a difference to your life?

The Internet, which we are using to develop curriculum materials (worksheets, diagrams and animations, for example). Until now we have been locked in the minds of the programmers, who have dictated what we think as well as how we think. The education system in South Africa has been designed to give access to information. The apartheid era put the monopoly of education squarely in the hands of the government, but St Alban's College has a long history of a commitment to education and has been involved in outreach programmes since 1976.

How?

The first Internet project was the development of Standard 7 (lower secondary) biology. The material was translated into an Internet format. After inspections by the World Bank, some funds were made available to continue with the project. The basic methodology behind the program is for teachers and pupils to access the information together. If this is not possible, pupils may still be able to interact with the information and learn effectively from it. We hope teachers will also use the information to upgrade their own skills as preparation for lessons.

What do you likedislike about it?

The disadvantages are the bandwidth (capacity) that is needed. It was decided to go into the project with the future in mind and not let present constraints limit what can be delivered. Much of the information on the Internet is useful, but it is not in a format that pupils in South Africa will be able to use. Our site is an attempt to address these issues.

When did you start using it?

We started developing our biology resource in November 1995 and we completed it in February this year.

Who decided to buy it, and were you involved in the choice?

It was a school decision; we agreed that the Internet would help us achieve some of our aims.

How does it compare with other ways of tackling the same tasks?

It compares very favourably and has had very positive comments from a number of people and organisations.

How do you think it could be improved?

This is just the initial phase of the project; with further funding it could be expanded to cover more subjects. Experience will help us to develop better materials in the future.

If you had more funding, what would you invest in?

The funds would be ploughed into developing other subjects. St Alban's has the infrastructure to cope with this type of project. We are content developers, but we need to find funding to fulfil our aims, and we also need other organisations to come to the party. We are involved in a project called Adopt-A-Network which operates between St Alban's College, research funders and Mamelodi, a black township on the outskirts of Pretoria. With further funding we are convinced that we can tap into the vast resources of the teachers at the college, and, by importing those skills which we lack, we can make a significant difference to the education of all pupils in South Africa.

The St Alban's College home page is at http:www.stalban.pta.school.za Ron Beyers can be contacted at beyers@stalban.pta.school.za

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