Bask in the glow of a thousand screens;Hang-ups;BETT'99

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Some archaeological digsat the roots of education's very own technology show.

You don't have to be mystified by the annual BETT technology show at London's Olympia. Whether you are a visitor or at home wondering what all the fuss is about, these answers to some frequently asked questions may help to resolve some things that have been nagging you.

Why is the Bett show so called?

No one knows for sure. For confirmation of this, make a point of quizzing anyone you meet at Olympia about what they think a bett is or was, or why there are never any on display in a show that purports to be devoted to them.

No one could be in any doubt as to the purpose of most big exhibitions - the Boat Show, Motor Show and Clothes Show, for example - but mention Bett and most people will look at you blankly.

This might go some way to explaining why so many headteachers stubbornly refuse to allow their staff leave of absence to attend the show. The over-worked information and communications technology co-ordinator creeps unctuously into the head's office and, falling to his - or her - knees, begs for the day off. "I wanna go to Bett," he pleads. And the head, unaware that bett has a special meaning for computer folk, assumes that the wretched lackey wants time off to slip down to the bookie's to gamble a few bob.

For how long has the Bett show been in existence?

Why do visitors to Bett accumulate so much advertising literature?

How do so many teachers manage to get to the Bett show every year?

Is there a less absurd explanation of how Bett came into being?

For how long has the Bett show been in existence?

No one knows for sure. But there are experts who argue that the show has existed since early history. They postulate that the original venue may have been Salisbury Plain. Stonehenge, they contend, is all that has survived of a peculiarly ostentatious stand. Human skeletons found in the area seem to lend weight to the hypothesis. When they were unearthed they were discovered arranged in what seems to have been a primitive queue. Archaeologists believe that they might have died waiting for their turn on the prehistoric equivalent of Net@Bett.

Closer examination of the bones in their hands show that the fingers were clenched. It suggests that they may have been clutching one or more bags.

Of course, there isn't a shred of evidence to support any of these claims, but this will not bother modern visitors to Bett, who have always displayed an endearing tendency to believe everything that they are told.

For how long has the Bett show been in existence?

Why do visitors to Bett accumulate so much advertising literature?

How do so many teachers manage to get to the Bett show every year?

Is there a less absurd explanation of how Bett came into being?

No one knows for sure. But some historians insist that the show dates from the 1840s, when Charles Babbage was engaged in his pioneering work. It is universally acknowledged that his Analytical Engine is the undoubted precursor of today's computers.

It's true that it did not have the familiar screen and keyboard, but it was bulky, expensive, difficult to operate and it rarely worked. What's more, successive governments, convinced of its potential, invested pound;17,000 of public funds (a fortune at that time) before coming to the reluctant decision that the engine didn't measure up to Babbage's claims.

He is rightly celebrated, but his equally industrious wife is often overlooked by historians. While her husband slaved over the hardware, she devoted herself tirelessly to establishing the first Analytical Engine Show. Her grandiose plan was to create a fairground where teachers, attracted from the length and breadth of the empire, could be bombarded with ridiculously extravagant claims about the educational benefits of the heap of scrap metal that her husband stored in the back bedroom.

Betty (for that was her name) only had two visitors to her first show - Charles, and a man from the government demanding a refund of pound;17,000. She made them queue for a cup of appalling coffee and issued them with a bag full of literature which they would never read.

Why do visitors to Bett accumulate so much advertising literature?

No one knows for sure. But some staff and pupils use it as raw material for papier mache. They busily fashion detailed replicas of the hardware that the school couldn't possibly afford to buy.

A network of papier mache PCs can look very convincing viewed from a distance - which is exactly how most prospective parents and visiting VIPs choose to view a school's ICT resources.

It has also been argued that the 70 per cent of the teaching profession who refuse to have anything to do with new technology prefer having papier mache hardware to the real thing. It never works, which these teachers find reassuring as it confirms their most deep-seated prejudices.

How do so many teachers manage to get to the Bett show every year?

No one knows for sure. But some schools, it seems, recognise that it offers a unique opportunity to enjoy the best in-service training at minimum cost.

At other schools, teachers have to resort to subterfuge. Indeed, some visitors at this year's show will be assiduously collecting brochures, fliers and catalogues. Over the coming year, they will use their highly developed skills in papier mache to produce life-like duplicates of themselves, which they will leave in their classrooms so that they can sneak off for at least one day at Bett 2000. Mrs Babbage would have been thrilled.

arnoldevans@virgin.net

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