A fair share of the budget;Editorial;Opinion

12th February 1999 at 00:00
If the Government's National Grid for Learning project goes according to plan, all schools will be connected within three years and many teachers will have started their technology training by the end of this year. Most schools are aware of the scale of the grid and the opportunities it offers, but others are struggling. Some do not even know what computers they have (see pages 4-5).

As Mary Marsh, head of Holland Park school in London, points out (page 30), technology is something that most schools have simply bolted on to what they already do, rather than using it for change. Schools pioneering technology (pages 12 and 14) do more than throw in computers - they have a plan, a strategy. That is not as difficult as it might seem. Publications are available and the British Educational Communications and Educational Technology Agency has produced an excellent interactive website to take schools through the process - you can even download the pages to complete on paper.

That schools should draw up information and communications technology plans ought to be common sense, but it becomes even more important in the light of the recent report from the National Association of Head Teachers showing the disparity between local authority budgets for national grid money, described by the union as "scandalous". In his speech at the BETT technology show last month, Owen Lynch, chief executive of BECTA, gave a timely warning that schools should budget so that ICT received an appropriate slice of the cake. This will be crucial in years to come when the grid funding runs out.

A mere 10 years ago, they said you could not get sacked for buying IBM. These days, those foolish enough to voice it would say that you cannot get sacked for buying Windows. That attitude was wrong the first time around and it is just as foolish now. In these days of the Internet and intranets it does not really matter which technology you use as long as you are able to communicate with the rest of the world, use relevant software and justify your investment.

In the early days of educational technology, central government favoured Acorn and Research Machines (now RM) and excluded Apple, the easiest machines of all to use, because they were not British.

The world has moved on. Acorn is no more - its excellent technology can no longer attract investment for further development. Apple looked like taking a nosedive a few years ago but has now resurfaced with machines such as the iMac that have re-awakened interest, excitement even, in easily maintained computers.

Apple users who kept the faith have been rewarded - they do not have to worry about the Millenium Bug either. And those who do not want to follow what is known as the Wintel route (Windows and Intel processors, ie PCs) can now see Apple as a healthy alternative. The time is right for teachers to side-step the anti-Apple bias that is a legacy of the Government's well-meaning policy promoting British firms.

'Online' will remain open-minded about what computers schools should use. While others tut-tut about the fledgling Network Computers (machines that pick up their operating software from their network server), we have been happy to highlight schools that use them, confident in their ability to get value from their investments.

Do not mistake this for a "Buy Apple", anti-WindowsBill Gates rant - Microsoft is providing some of the best software available for the Mac. It is more a reminder that good technology is merely technology that is appropriate for your needs, and not what someone else thinks you need.

Just because you do not choose what many regard as a "safe" option does not mean that you want to live dangerously. With two experts, I have just wasted a day on what should have been the simple task of connecting a modem to a Windows NT computer, so I know that pursuing a popular orthodoxy can act against my own interests. It is like everything else in life: if you know what you are doing, just get on with it.

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