System failure

I think I've come across a new form of training. It's called unprofessional development. Or maybe, like a lot of ideas that you think are original, it's been around for ages, but nobody's wanted to mention it.

I'm the ICT co-ordinator at our primary school. And it's a job that requires keeping up with all the latest thinking in how we use technology in schools. Not only do I have to keep my own knowledge razor sharp, I've also got to keep my colleagues up to the mark.

But every time I'm about to tell them how I can help, something always interrupts. Like they suddenly remember they have to be somewhere else. Or the network has an attack of stage fright and won't let me demonstrate anything. Or the literacy hour klaxon sounds and everyone has to run back to their battle positions.

Whoever invented the phrase "lifelong learning" hadn't met Susan Chard. She is a woman so cynical and suspicious that she bites the pound coins that children give her for dinner money. When I told her that I would be enabling her later, she gave me the kind of look that earned Medusa her reputation.

So I was delighted when we were to receive some outside training, provided by the Opportunity Knocks Fund. The sub-contractor for the training was a company called SchoolCorp (motto "Your School Will Be Our School") and to show that this was really serious training we all wore printed badges with our names, slightly misspelt, on them.

The trainer, who said he wanted to be known as a facilitator, gathered us all together and told us he was going to show us how to put the IT into literacy and, if we were good, he'd show us some websites to put the racy into IT. Geddit?

Then he went straight into the training with several pages of print-outs to be completed showing us how to turn on a computer. Susan Chard lifted a single finger to show him the digit she would use to push the button. And the Buff, who knows more about computers than is good for anyone, said that there were now computers that were switched on by a simple twitch of the eyebrow.

I must admit that a whole morning on "button work" seemed a little excessive. But in the afternoon, the pace quickened considerably, as he handed out CD-Roms with training exercises which he said we could work through while he made a few phone calls.

These seemed to be using the example of how to set up an information technology support system if you were running a car-spares import business. I was a little disappointed and wanted to know how this could be applied to our needs as a primary school. But he was running late for another appointment, so he gave me a support line number to ring in Gibraltar for "phone mentoring" if there were any problems or questions. And there wasn't really time for us to fill in the feedback forms from the training session, so he'd save us the bother and do it himself.

It wasn't quite the example I wanted to give the others, who are already muttering about the ICT bubble bursting. I try to share the knowledge I have, but it's difficult when teachers are at so many different levels of ability and enthusiasm. There are some who are playing DVDs on their laptops each night and others who see technology as another irritating hurdle they have to cross. And the subtleties of what they need, depending on the age group and the subjects they teach, are hard for any training consultancy to understand.

But computers do make a lot of sense if you let them do what they do best. For instance, if you put "consultancy" into the spellchecker it will tell you that it's not even a real word. I knew these machines were good for something.

Sean James

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