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Scepticism stays in keyboard report

The use of information and communication technology in and out of schools has been increasing - but many teachers are still sceptical.

These are among the main findings of a major research report on the impact of ICT by a team of academics from Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities.

They found that, while teachers acknowledged the classroom of the future would be very different from the present, 49 per cent of secondary teachers and 40 per cent of their primary colleagues believed that the importance of ICT had been greatly exaggerated.

The report tracked changes between an earlier investigation in 1999 and 2001, involving 1,332 pupils in P7 in 72 primaries and 1,409 pupils in 80 secondaries at the S4 stage, and their teachers. Last year's inquiry showed computer usage had increased, mainly to support pupils using the Internet and CD-Roms.

Despite this, computer use in most subjects remained as low as in the previous survey. They featured most regularly in business management, graphic communication and accounting, and less often in English and art and design.

The report comments: "One of the tensions in the implementation of ICT initiatives lies in the debate as to whether ICT should be considered as a subject in its own right or as a means to learning within other subjects and contexts.

"The development of ICT suites or labs has tended to support the former approach, with timetabled sessions where the focus is on ICT skill acquisition."

The report's authors suggest the alternative approach which points to the potential of ICT lay in its wider use across departments to help students'

learning in the sciences, art, the social subjects or modern languages.

Nonetheless, 45 per cent of primary teachers reported that their pupils'

attainment had improved as a result of working on computers, as did 41 per cent of secondary teachers. Many have still to be convinced, however, that there is much scope for increasing the non-teaching use of ICT in areas such as record-keeping in "the foreseeable future".

The researchers found that some teachers may be catching up with their pupils' expertise in the technology. The survey also showed that over half of the pupils in P7 and S4 said they knew "enough to get by" while only a third thought they knew "a lot or were real experts".

Although there were positive attitudes to ICT, teachers continue to cite frustrations from technical problems and the failure of staff development in ICT to keep pace with technological developments.

But the authors caution that a two-year gap between surveys is a relatively short time to judge the effectiveness of ICT "given the rate at which educational initiatives tend to impact on practice".

"The Impact of Information and Communication Technology Initiatives in Scottish Schools", by Rae Condie and Donald Gray (Strathclyde), Mary Simpson (Edinburgh) and Fran Payne (Aberdeen).

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