Centres for early enthusiasm;Technology;Viewpoint;Opinion

26th June 1998 at 01:00
MANY SCHOOLS lack sufficient equipment and training for teachers needed to achieve the Government's information and communications technology goals. An analysis of how Hewlett-Packard could best support the education sector showed that a lack of access to appropriate technology was most acute at primary school level.

This can have repercussions later on in a child's education. If they are not at ease with ICT when they move to key stage 3 they may find it hard to catch up later.

However, this need has to be balanced against the desire to turn every primary school teacher into highly skilled technologists, which is neither desirable nor practical - at least not in the short term. Technology needs to be viewed by the teachers as a tool to support them which makes the learning process easy and fun, not as an additional burden.

It is tempting to think globally about technology in education. In other words, try to come up with a universal panacea to the challenge. An overall national framework is needed but it is really only at a local or regional level that you are likely to succeed. Each school is different in its requirements and approach and this must be clearly understood in order to meet individual technology requirements.

Hewlett-Packard is developing a network of regional learning centres that will give individual primary schools access to the latest computer technology. The company feels strongly that to help schools meet the Government's aim for the more widespread use of ICT, support from industry must be provided at a local level and learning centres, located in schools, will play a key role in delivering the national curriculum, as well as providing resources to train teaching staff. It provides the opportunity to try different approaches to ICT and gauge how they can integrate into individual schools.

For this model to work, close relationships needed to be forged between the technology provider and the school, as well as with the local education authorities and other organisations such as the training and enterprise councils. The learning centres could also be used by the broader community for gaining skills out of school hours.

The success of a local approach can be seen with Hewlett-Packard's involvement in the Priory School in Slough, Berkshire, where all pupils from the age of five learn computer skills and teachers prepare multimedia lessons using laptop computers. The lessons are then delivered in the classroom using overhead projection. From this experience, the company developed the learning centre concept to the point where it could be replicated easily around the country.

The first learning centre opened this summer at Henbury, Bristol, a secondary school with several feeder primary schools all using the facilities. Other learning centres are due to be opened in Manchester and at Inverkeithing, near South Queensferry in Scotland and on Tyneside.

What is needed is a pragmatic approach, where industry keeps an open mind, supports schools and education authorities and helps share best practice.

* Tina Green is developing Hewlett-Packard's programme for supporting primary education in the UK.

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