Blueprint for revolution

24th March 1995 at 00:00
Jack Kenny discovers in Denmark one of the first official documents to recognise the economic importance of computers.

ZOne of the first tasks an inspector undertakes when visiting a school is to scrutinise the IT policy. Strange we think a school should have an IT policy, when we don't seem to have one as a nation. How many people can say with confidence what the IT strategy of this country is over the next five years? What is the IT strategy for education?

One country, Denmark, has assembled a group of people, thought through a strategy for information technology, written it up and published it on the Internet. It is there for everyone to see, all 126 pages of it, elucidating clearly all the issues that any country worrying about its place in the world needs to be thinking about.

It says: "A revolution is in progress; a global short-circuit of time, space, people and processes I an explosion in the amount and exchange of information. The instrument is modern information technology and the result is the profound change in work and communication throughout society."

The writers explore the implications of those thoughts for all aspects of Danish society. This is fascinating reading when you live in a country that considers thinking six months ahead as long-term planning. The framework that they have used is a useful tool for thinking through a response to imminent challenges, and could be helpful to schools making their own smaller-scale projections.

The report interprets information technology in its widest sense as it sweeps across topics such as libraries, mass media, the impact on research, the economics of the technology, or the influence on home life. Each chapter ends with a commitment to action related to the general principles.

Education is just a part of all this, but the Danish approach enables educators to feel that they are part of a homogeneous society and that their work is an important element in a wider plan. They can see where it all fits. Denmark seems to have recognised the importance of information to a modern economy, realised there is a link between education system and future prosperity. It enables Danish teachers to feel they can work with the current design for society rather than against it.

There is a concern expressed that all teachers and all pupils should be IT users. "In order to promote the application of IT they (teachers) must I let students bring their own computer, while the school provides computers for the rest of the students." This is obviously a response to poor resourcing. According to the report, the ratio of computers to students is 1 to 25. Our politicians boast of much better ratios, but achieved in a piecemeal fashion and with ageing equipment.

Many teachers in this country would probably welcome the assertion that "the Ministry of Education will appoint a committee to investigate possible initiatives to prepare children better for I the increasing flood of information and to use information technology to search and to choose information with a critical mind".

The purpose of the document was to look at the possibilities for Denmark in the new information society, to formulate an overall policy for information technology and identify special target areas. In other words we have a country doing what schools are frequently asked to do prepare a policy, in this case a whole country policy.

"The strategy must rely upon the extensive use of information technology, and it must be based upon values such as openness, democracy and responsibility for all people in order to avoid a division among Danes into an A-team and a B-team with regard to information technology." The authors of the report realise that the scope for increasing inequality in the information society is vast. It is unlikely that market forces will take care of that in an unregulated market. Already in this country teachers are becoming aware of the gaps that are growing between their pupils and, as IT increasingly becomes a consumer item, those gaps will grow.

There are some interesting observations on the UK. Did you know that we have the highest number of modems per head of population and that Germany is at the bottom of the list? Has someone counted in all those DTI modems nestling unused in stock cupboards?

The document must be one of the first official publications to recognise the importance of electronic texts to education. The ease with which documents can be published on demand, the flexibility, the precision of searching, the portability are all there. There is an understanding that paper is not always the best medium, that the speed of communications renders traditional publishing processes redundant for some information.

The sting at the end of the report is for all of Europe. "Denmark and Europe have a big problem in ... the high tariffs on ... data connections. It is on average 10 times as expensive to use the high capacity networks in Europe compared to the United States." It is urgent that we develop across Europe the kind of ease with communications that exists in the United States. We will not do that without some grand plan and without reducing charges and tariffs so that the words and images and sounds can flow freely from mind to mind.

* If you are an Internet user, the document can be obtained by FTP from ftp.denet.dkpubinfoasciiAlso from http:www.sdn.dk.

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