Pat Docherty looks forward to the expansion of information technology in the UK's schools and colleges. Just how did Apple Macintosh get such a powerful grip on Scottish education? Six out of 10 computers in our schools are Apple Macs. In business and industry it is just a fraction of that. The primary reason for this stranglehold in the classroom is ease of use.
Instead of pupils giving teachers the proverbial apple, teachers are buying their own. Last year teachers in Strathclyde alone bought 2,500 Macs for their own use at home. Scotsys in conjunction with the Scottish Centre for Education Technology offered the first interest-free deal to teachers last summer and options included various software titles on CD and hard disc. One in every four teachers contacted signed up, which is an incredible strike rate, underlining the value of having your own Mac.
Obviously the markets bounce off each other. The teacher is fully trained on IT on the Macs to teach the child - and to keep ahead with course work buys a system they are knowledgeable with to prepare work at home.
Meanwhile parents are aware their child is mastering the Mac at school and either want them to have the same system available at home or one for their own use. My company is aware of the almost unknown phenomenon of parents actually taking the advice of, and being steered by, their children - some aged under 10 - into buying equipment for well over Pounds 1,000. I wonder if parents would take the advice of their children if they were buying an expensive sound system.
Apple Mac equipment, related systems, and network technology and solutions accounts for 95 per cent of "core" business for Scotsys. We are in the second year of a contract with Strathclyde Region in which Pounds 3m was spent on Macs for schools last year. Over the next two years we will continue to supply schools in the Strathclyde area with a portfolio of computer products.
We will shortly be emerging into an exciting new time for IT solutions in the UK education sector. Apple has linked with Acorn in a joint venture which began operating at the start of this month to provide the widest choice of education solutions in schools.
The availability of Apple Mac desktop publishing is the other major factor in the capture of the further education market of which it commands 30 per cent. In colleges and universities ease of use is not just as vital as within schools, but the supreme capability to produce quality documents, reports, images and graphics is.
Scotsys is the supplier to seven Scottish universities, and maintains service from central headquarters in Lanarkshire and offices in Edinburgh and within Glasgow University. One of the features which we are committed to is ease of information on the latest developments for our education customers and the latest word on availability, pricing, and data on new products is available via the Internet or by Applelink account.
The next generation of Mac software technology is arriving in Scotland this month and promises to have major impact. A piece of software - called PowerSecretary voice recognition - for Power PC computers is to be installed at a university by Scotsys for an undergraduate who suffers from repetitive strain injury and is unable to use a keyboard efficiently. It features a memory of 120,000 words and is so advanced it adapts rapidly to the individual pronunciation and accent of each new user. Whether it will quite cope with an Aberdeenshire farmer has still to be put to the test!
Scotsys Computer Systems is the major force on the ground in Scotland but we cannot be complacent. The company was founded in 1982 by myself and fellow director Joe McAuley with the aim of being the leading supplier of Mac systems and support. Our commitment to education has allowed us to grow and we now employ 52 people in the central belt. Our support network attached to schools, colleges and universities is a vital back-up and includes on-site warranties, fixed response time contracts, call-out engineers and a technical support hot-line.
With new technology developments continually entering the market place, it can place both financial and comprehension difficulties within the education sector. We are always aware of this and strive to come up with the best tailor-made financial packages. Our training rooms have never been busier and incorporate a series of courses for every level of experience in the full range of Mac applications currently on sale.
* Pat Docherty is sales director of Scotsys Computer Systems, The AppleCentre, Righead Industrial Park, Bellshill, tel 01698 846000