A virtual nirvana may be in sight for teachers

4th February 2000 at 00:00
A virtual nirvana may be in sight for teachers but Arnold Evans discovers perfection is no guarantee of happiness.

I can never resist those lovely online questionnaires which you must complete before being allowed access to some Internet sites. And, naturally, I present myself in the best possible light. The "Arnold Evans" I conjure up through the necromancy of clicking boxes is a phantom - the person I might have been, had not heartless Fate, a few delinquent genes and Old Father Time conspired so cruelly against me thus far.

Although nudging perilously near to my twilight years, I youthfully click the box labelled "25-30". I always estimate my salary at circa pound;150,000, so as not to encourage too much jealousy among my peers, and confess to a penchant for fine wines, fast cars and fabulous holiday locations. In the section labelled "occupation" I usually modestly admit to being a "rock star".

If I were, by my age I would have bought myself a house, a very big house in the country. And an apartment overlooking Central Park, chateau in the South of France, a pad in London's Docklands and a cosy bolthole within easy reach of my current detox clinic. There's something peculiarly impressive about having more than one address. And - although I have barely enough in the Halifax to cover the down payment on a half-decent box in Cardboard City - I can honestly boast that I have so many addresses that I can't possibly remember them all.

Needless to say, they are all of the e-mail variety. I'm a sucker for those free CD-Roms which the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) dish out with such reckless abandon. They arrive unsolicited in the mail, are there for the taking in supermarkets and high street stores and come taped to the front of computer mags. There are almost 200 providers in the UK, all eager to have anyone with a modem as a member. Many of them provide a free service, a few offer free time online via an 0800 number, a few promise discounts on your other telephone calls and some are even willing to offer you shares in their company.

I am undiscriminating. Any CD that chances my way gets shoved in the drive. As I plod through the installment procedure, I have the opportunity to spend an instructive hour or three rediscovering that help lines can sometimes offer precious little help even when they charge premium rates.

I then race through the inevitable questionnaire so that I can get down to the serious business of laying claim to my new address so that I can email a few long-suffering friends to assure them that I have, at last, found my true home on the Web.

It's not true, of course. No ISP exactly reflects my particular tastes, needs or aspirations. I begin to feel uncomfortable the moment that I'm welcomed abord and heartily congratulated on my good sense in joining that particular random assortment of cyberdudes. I don't really want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. I don't like being lumbered with an address which so unashamedly reveals that the only way I've managed to gatecrash cyberspace is that I've picked up a freebie disc from Tescos, Dixons or Woollies or - heaven forfend - The Sun.

Of course, it has been made much easier for teachers ever since TAG Developments came up with the ingenious idea of creating an ISP which will be controlled exclusively by teachers, ex-teachers and - if there is such an exotic creature abroad in the land - wannabe teachers.

The service, launched last month, is not only free but also promises that anyone who joins is automatically entitled to shares in tagteachernet. Conceivably this could prove profitable if the company is a resounding success, but, more importantly, it signals TAG's commitment to offering teachers ownership and ultimately control of how the service is structured.

It isn't yet another content-based service offering parents, pupils and teachers gigabytes of resources. Instead, it is uniquely aimed, not at education in general, but specifically at UK's much-maligned, misunderstood, and shell-shocked army of practising teachers. If they have a computer and modem at home, they have - at last - a virtual home of their own on the Internet. It is teachers who will shape tagteachernet's infrastructure, set the agenda on its bulletin boards and, if it succeeds, establish an online community of those who earn their daily crust not by pontificating about education, education, education but facing classrooms of kids. It is the teachers who subscribe to it who will ultimately decide everything from the colours on its home page to its fundamental educational philosophy.

Obviously TAG wants to make a few bob from the adventure. But, remarkably, the company has spotted that the most likely way of doing so is not to second-guess what teachers actually want but to surrender control of this ISP to them.

As far as I can see, teachers have nothing to lose. This service could offer them a unique ISP, every bit as good as any other on the market and resolutely independent of government, commercial pressure or the unions. If teachers find that it doesn't measure up, they can simply consign the software to the Recycle bin and try someone else.

My only regret is that there isn't a similar service for a shy, retiring person like myself: 30-year-old rock stars on pound;150K with a weakness for fine wines, fast cars and fabulously flashy holiday locations.

TAG DevelopmentsTel: 01474 357 350 www.tagteacher.netArnold Evans can be contacted at:arnoldevans@virgin.net

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