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Teachers 'key to hi-tech'

New technology may change the face of classroom teaching but humans will still be at the helm, Neil Munro discovers at the Fusion 2000 conference

TEACHERS will be continue to be the key players in learning as the technological revolution takes off in the classroom, delegates to this week's major conference on the future of learning heard.

The Glasgow conference, entitled Fusion 2000 ("fun and vision"), heard the same theme reinforced by Peter Peacock, the Deputy Children and Education Minister, and by Richard Pietrasik, executive director of Learning and Teaching Scotland, which organised the event.

Mr Peacock said: "It is teachers who hold the key to the successful utilisation of information and communications technology in the classroom."

He announced a second round of the Computers for Teachers scheme which has already given almost 5,000 teachers financial help to buy or upgrade their own computers, adding that he hoped to extend it once basic access had been established.

A 1998 survey found that over half of primary teachers and 65 per cent of those in secondary used computers at home.

But a recent HMI report said schools had a considerable way to go to make the use of ICT "widespread or consistent".

Thirty schools, however, were singled out for their good practice, which was filmed and placed on Tuesday on the National Grid for Learning web-site.

Mr Peacock and Mr Pietrasik also sounded a warning about the use of ICT.

"It is too easy in this ever-advancing world of technology to become seduced by the technology and it is of no value without structured, informed and engaging content which can liberate and empower both teachers and learners."

The Minister said that, in the knowledge economy, "perfecting the fit of the design of education to meet each individual's learning needs is going to be paramount".

Reassurances and challenges were also offered to teachers by Mr Pietrasik, a former computer programer and secondary head in West Lothian. He told the conferece, of which the TES Scotland was the media sponsor: "None of these developments is worth having unless teachers are on board and feel ownership. We've got to have confident, empowered teachers applying the technology to learning."

But Mr Pietrasik also warned that technological changes were looming which education had to embrace. It would have to think about the effects of digital video, and voice recognition systems - which could replace keyboards and are already used by special needs pupils. Digicam technology can film events for the Internet and will become "ubiquitous," while Anywhere, Anytime Learning, being pioneered by Microsoft, assumes that every child will one day come to school with a laptop.

The LTS chief suggested, however, that these developments would make the teacher's job easier and therefore make teaching more effective. "When teachers realise that," Mr Pietrasik added,"they will embrace the technology."

Mr Peacock made clear, that he expected LTS to be at the forefront of helping teachers to see the way forward in applying the new technologies in the classroom, including developing"a new sense of ownership over curriculum matters" - a clear sign ministers are prepared to listen to teachers' charges that they feel disempowered and excluded from curriculum changes such as Higher Still.

The Scottish Executive is committing pound;200 million over the three years to 2002 in a major drive involving staff training, additional computers and learning approaches. The objective is to have 7.5 computers for every primary pupil (around four per classroom) and five for each secondary pupil.

Mr Pietrasik acknowledged that these ratios "are not the end of the process or saying that we have achieved anything at all, but simply an attempt to establish a level playing field throughout Scotland".

He also called on school managements to ensure they recognise the educational power of technology and that "where you put the technology is an educational issue, not just a technical one".

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