Just say no to that new modem

AROUND THREE years ago, I suggested that every school jotter should have a poem or extract from a play or novel printed on its cover as a baited hook for pupils. Nothing came of this idea. Neither did anyone take up my proposal that there should be a national "Learn Just For The Hell Of It" day, a day when nothing would be taught that would later be assessed.

I therefore hold out little hope that anyone will pay the slightest bit of attention to "National Don't Spend Any Money On New Computers Year". For 12 months it would be "yes" to maintaining existing machines, "yes" to the purchase of useful software - but an unequivocal "no" to new hardware.

In the week following the Scottish Council for Educational Technology's exhibition and conference, this may sound like rampant hypocrisy, especially since until recently I had a 30 per cent timetable commitment to computing. Am I seeking approval from the sort of people who vote in Teletext phone polls? Have I targeted the Sunday Post's "we never had computers in my day but we were healthy, happy and could add up our shopping" brigade? No, here comes the rationale.

A largish secondary might spend Pounds 10,000 a year on hardware (or 10K as we IT . . . sorry, ICT types say). Half of that would buy a hell of a lot of books, and books are still pretty darned useful things. You can take them home, for a start. The other Pounds 5,000 could provide a day's training for 50 staff - those who know little about the operation and potential of the computing equipment already on site.

I am not claiming that computers in schools are useless or unnecessary. Their widespread use in the "real world" is enough to demolish that argument in a single sentence, before we even begin to consider the educational value of some of the excellent software now available.

But we do need to stop to catch breath. Many schools have carefully planned cycles of spending on computer hardware and a year out would be inconvenient, to say the least, particularly if your own department was next in line. I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen (adopting movie lawyer stance) that the advantages of my scheme nevertheless outweigh these drawbacks. Join me to campaign for a National Don't Spend Any Money On New Computers Year.

(Alternatively, if you have a friend or relative who works for an educational stationery company, get them to put a few lines from Lord of the Flies on the cover.) Gregor Steele tends to surf Ceefax as he is not yet on-line.

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