19th January 1996 at 00:00
The Government is to part-fund a project to evaluate the potential of the Internet for the curriculum, school administration, teacher training and special needs.

Industry is expected to put up half of the Pounds 200,000-Pounds 300,000 needed for the evaluation, run by the National Council for Educational Technology, which is expected to start in the spring and run until March 1997.

"The explosion of interest in networking, with exponential additions to the Internet every year, shows that this is not a passing phenomenon like the CB radio," said education minister Robin Squire when he launched the scheme at the BETT 96 technology show at Olympia last week.

The minister also announced plans to work with partners in Canada and Japan to develop a "virtual languages centre" on the Internet, which would contain curriculum information and materials for teachers and students of modern languages. These announcements were relatively low key compared to the multi-million pound projects that have been launched at the BETT show in recent years, such as those to equip primary and secondary schools with CD-Rom systems. The move towards industry funding indicates a reluctance on the Government's part to fund further IT projects for education. The Pounds 10 million "superhighways" projects announced recently by Michael Heseltine were funded by industry, with only Pounds 500,000 from the Government to pay for evaluation.

Schools are being warned to think carefully before investing in integrated learning systems, the computerised systems which adjust curriculum tasks to suit individual students' abilities. Ironically, the warning from Robin Squire was timed to coincide with a relatively positive report on ILS from the National Council for Educational Technology, which the Department for Education and Employment tried to suppress.

Speaking at BETT 96, Mr Squire said that the ILS report "justifies optimism and further targeted research", but warned that schools should not "place ILS at the top of their priority list for scarce IT and teaching resources".

His remarks are curious in the light of indications that the Government has been planning an investment in ILS for schools, possibly as a pre-election initiative on literacy and numeracy. Michael Heseltine's office is known to have made enquiries about the cost of a national ILS investment, and computer company ICL is understood to have demonstrated a UK-based ILS to John Major recently. The ILS which showed positive results in the NCET research is SuccessMaker, an American product.

The full report, ILS: Integrated Learning Systems (A report of Phase II of the pilot evaluation of ILS in the UK) costs Pounds 15 from the NCET, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry CV4 7JJ, tel: 01203 416994.

The World of Robert Burns CD-Rom, from Cambridgeshire Software House, won gold in the primary category of BETT's annual Education Design Award, sponsored by Educational Computing and Technology magazine. Silver went to 4Mation's Guardians of the Greenwood CD-Rom and bronze to Sherston's Mission Control: Crystal Rainforest.

Roger Wagner's HyperStudio (TAG) won the secondary gold, with silver going to Aspects of Religion from YITM and bronze to PictureBase from AVP.

In the special needs section the gold went to Crick Computing's Switch Clicker Plus, the silver to Resource's TalkWrite and bronze to Brilliant Computing's Claude and Maud.

Acorn's RiscPC won the hardware gold award, Research Machines' and Semerc's Window Box products sharing silver. A special award for services was made to Research Machines' Internet for Learning.

Research Machines has teamed up with the Energis telecom firm to offer a cheaper service for schools wanting to connect their school computer networks to the Internet. Schools can now get on to RM's Internet servers via a local call to Energis's digital network at local call charges. The network covers 70 per cent of the UK.

More information from Research Machines, New Mill House, 183 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 4SE, tel: 01235 826000.

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