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Puttnam pleads for lottery cash

Diane Spencer reports from a TES-sponsored conference on culture . . .

National Lottery money should be made available to put a computer on every child's desk - no matter what age - by the year 2000, award-winning film director Sir David Puttnam said this week.

Sir David told a one-day conference in Westminster on Culture, Commerce and the Curriculum -organised by the National Foundation for Arts Education and sponsored by The TES - that money available to education through the lottery - "our money" - should be invested in essential projects, not just extras. Sir David, a member of the Arts Council Lottery Board, dismissed the idea of "additionality" which said that lottery money should be spent on things which are not Government's responsibility. "Every member of the lottery boards is looking over their shoulder to see if the Treasury will grab something back. No institution can operate like that - it's daft."

The Department for Education could not provide sufficient computers and it would agonise for ever over which kind was needed and which software to use. The rest of the world would not wait for them to make up their minds. The lottery provided a wonderful opportunity, just as North Sea oil was supposed to have done, to equip young people for the next century. He insisted money made available through the lottery's Millennium Fund should not be used to celebrate the past. "That would leave us with a 100-year-old hang-over."

Sir David said the UK had the capacity to become the world's leading exporter of knowledge. He pointed to the advantages the UK had in the Open University, which gave it a head start on the rest of the world in distance learning techniques, the British Council influence in 106 countries, the widespread use of the English language, worldwide radio television and an amazing group of educational publishers and computer programmers.

The UK could become a world leader in education but he warned that unless this country moved quickly, children in future would be learning from US materials.

Referring to the title of his talk, "Education, Technology and Culture", Sir David said it consisted of three words which had never sat comfortably together in our society. "It is my contention, however, that now, on the threshold of a new millennium we have an extraordinary opportunity to achieve a fundamental shift in our education system that will at last allow us to unite these apparent opposites in harmony. And if we accomplish that shift, we have a real possibility of creating a society which can liberate individual talent and at the same time promote a wider social and economic security whose beneficial consequences could be genuinely momentous."

Like Sir John Harvey-Jones, who spoke earlier, he stressed the need for lifetime learning. Sir John said that he tried to learn a new skill every year. "I damn well have to," he said, adding that he had just failed his keyboard exam again.

More conference reports in next week's TES.

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