A heartfelt plug for old technology

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Mention ICT to me, and immediately I'm a candidate for the men in white coats. It drives me crazy. Why can't ICT equipment just, well, be reliable?

I asked this on an ICT course recently. It's brilliantly clever, I said, and I want just one thing from it. I want it to work reliably. But it does, said the course organiser. Ten years ago it might have been a bit flaky, but these days ...

I wasn't going to convince him. But, frankly, I don't know a soul who hasn't had problems with ICT equipment. Ask Sandra, my admin officer, who spent days trying to upload data to the local authority until it gave up and told her to write it on paper and post it. Ask Alex, my Year 5 teacher, who writes on his whiteboard and finds the writing appearing a foot lower down the screen. Or ask my ICT co-ordinator, who wrestles with printers that go berserk and cough out gobbledegook.

Trouble is, we're too far down the road. The boffins create ever more complex wizardry, software companies continually update their products, and the rest of us struggle with stuff that keeps going wrong.

And it doesn't stop when we go home. In my spare time, I write musicals for children with my music co-ordinator. We're about to change publishers. I needed to prepare a CD containing all the scripts and, since I already had each script on its own floppy disk, it seemed a straightforward job: transfer the scripts to my computer desktop, pop a CD in the drive, drop the files onto it. Half an hour. An hour at most.

Things went well until I discovered that the files on the last three disks wouldn't open. No reason. They'd been fine when I'd last used them, and I'd stored them carefully. But now they just made a funny whirring noise. Could be the drive itself, I thought, so I hunted in the cupboard for a spare, but they wouldn't open on that either.

Never mind, I was certain I'd also saved them on a zip disk - a short-lived piece of technology that appeared after the original floppy disk and before those little plug-in storage devices even teaching-practice students come equipped with nowadays.

Another hunt in my old technology drawer - and there was the drive. I hooked it to my PC, located the disk for it, and plugged it into the mains. Dead as a doornail. Hoping it was just an internal fuse, out came the miniature screwdrivers, but I might as well have been looking at the flight deck of Concorde.

Then a brilliant idea! The three shows I was looking for were written years ago on an original BBC Micro. I probably still had the computer and its large floppy disks somewhere in the loft.

The ancient machine was dusted down, fired up, and, of course, worked perfectly. The scripts were printed out using an old dot-matrix printer and scanned into my PC's word processor. Then the long task of editing all the mistakes where the scanner hadn't read the dots properly.

I finished the work late on Sunday. This seemingly simple ICT task had taken the entire weekend.

Still, I suppose that pales beside the problem one of my teachers had last week. She'd finished typing her planning for the term, sat back exultantly - and knocked her coffee into the laptop's innards. And, naturally, she hadn't saved her work.

Mike Kent, Headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Southwark, London.

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