Introverted pupils liberated by intranet


MARJO Vaharautio finished her lesson on the environment and wrote the homework on the board:

She told her class of Helsinki 13-year-olds to research their projects online and then send them to her by e-mail. After marking, each piece of work would be posted on to the capital's net school - nickname Mauri - as a resource for future students.

Ytenaiskoulu, a combined primary and secondary school of 450 pupils, is the most electronically-advanced school in Finland. The enthusiasm and ease with which it has embraced IT is, perhaps, what Education Secretary David Blunkett would like to see in the UK.

Some pound;25 million has been spent by the Helsinki education service on establishing Mauri, an Intranet resource for both teachers and students.

Everyone has their own e-mail address and, with 65 top-of-the-range computers available, access is easy.

Such is the popularity of the new media that the Internet has largely replaced the conventional library, and hard disks have superseded the trusty exercise book.

About 90 per cent of Finnish households are on the Internet. Schools signed up to Mauri can inform parents of forhcoming events and administrative details.

"Most children here are happy to communicate electronically," said Ms Vaharautio. "Finnish people are reserved and IT is the perfect vehicle for us.

It is ideal for the shy student."

Computer courses usually end at lower secondary level because by then students know enough about wordprocessing, data-processing, multimedia and programming.

"By the time pupils start primary level at six they already know the basics," said Arno Aalto, the school's IT teacher.

In addition, Ytenaiskoulou takes part in an international electronic mail link-up. It connects with schools in Estonia and Sweden, to be extended soon to Germany and France. Students join chat forums and send e-mails to penpals, all the while practising their foreign languages.

"Some of the older teachers struggle with the technology," said Mr Aalto."The students usually know more. They think it's trendy, the post-modern equivalent of hunting and fishing."

Abuse of the system is rare, he claims. "It would easy for students to copy work off the database but this rarely happens. It seems to make them honest."

Analysis, page 26.

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