A new forum for a new ICT era;Editorial

9th January 1998 at 00:00
WELCOME to the first TES Online Education, our new publication for information and communications technology (ICT) in education. It replaces our well-established Computers Update, and there will be six issues this year.

The magazine aims to give teachers and the educational technology community an informed forum with news, opinions, features, and reviews of software, hardware and publications. There will be new ventures - but we will also retain favourites such as Hang-ups by Arnold Evans (page 6). Arnold now gets his own page.

The public profile of ICT has recently been boosted by the Blair Government's plans for the national grid for learning and the virtual teachers' centre, and The TES is responding with increased coverage. If Kenneth Baker's Computers in Schools initiative in the Eighties was the first wave of educational technology, we are already surfing the second: soon access to the Internet's global networks should become ubiquitous. Many teachers, through no fault of their own, were left high and dry by that first wave.

Worse still, they were made responsible by law to use ICT in their teaching when most of them had not been properly trained and did not have real access to such technology.

The second wave should involve all teachers and students, and this time there will be no excuses for not getting schools and colleges afloat. The lessons of former failures we hope, have been learnt, and the priorities have already been clearly spelt out in Dennis Stevenson's pre-election report commissioned by Tony Blair. The government's pledge to connect every school has been welcomed. As in other countries, network connection is seen as crucial for education and for creating a generation of technologically literate young people.

But there are dangers. One commonly expressed fear stems from the Government's concept of consortiums providing managed services for schools or local authorities. The BEON project, sponsored by BI and ICL, in Bristol where a cluster of schools are networked together in a project that is now being marketed to other areas. But other schemes might not be so well run. Observers are anxious lest one or two consortiums dominate education. Schools could eventually become captives rather than clients.

Because the national grid for learning has had such a good reception, few people are keen to criticise it publicly for fear of being perceived as Luddites. One exception is Don Cruikshank, boss of Oftel, the communications watchdog who warns against monopolies emerging from the consortiums (page 8).

He recommends that the Internet connection element of a consortium be "unhooked".

It is clear that the model of public-private partnership being promoted will need sensitive handling. Kim Howells, the minister for lifelong learning, is wise to assure us that the Government will not allow large companies to dominate the market (page 10).

Competition can be very productive, stimulating new services and keeping prices down; but that same rivalry can be a problem in other contexts. The British Education Suppliers Association should be applauded for bringing its members together to launch UK NetYear. This is an independent drive to connect schools and colleges as a complement to the government's own plans (page 9). In the United States, the NetDay movement has connected thousands of schools that would otherwise have been untouched.

And individual states have used the initiative to connect schools state-wide.

The spirit of such a pioneering endeavour is extremely important. It requires companies to put rivalries carefully on hold, while placing schools' interests to the fore. Which is why it is sad that one of the most important British telecommunications companies is not involved. Hopefully, it is not too late to reconsider, but it signals the difficulties of getting everyone on board.

The mutual suspicion that is a natural part of the business world should not be allowed to stunt a project like UK NetYear. It deserves to succeed, and to do that it needs support.

And to satisfy schools, the participating companies have to show that they are in for the larger project and not just using NetYear as a vehicle for sales.

That these dangers are publicly acknowledged is a good sign; it makes them less likely to happen. As Dennis Stevenson says, sometimes you can worry too much. At the launch of a new magazine and the start of the BETT '98 show, there should be more to celebrate than bemoan. BETT '98, we are sure, will be the best yet. Enjoy.


Most visitors to BETT are pre-registered, but free admission is possible for teachers who turn up at Olympia in Kensington.

The show runs from Wednesday (Jan 14) to Saturday (Jan 17).

It opens at 1Oam every day and closes at 6pm except Saturday (4.30pm).

No students or under-18s admitted.

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