Changing education with ICT

8th June 2001 at 01:00
ICT: Changing Education. By Chris Abbott. Published by Routledge. Price: pound;14.99. TES Price: pound;13.99, or a set of 10 at pound;129.

There is a real danger that we just plough ahead with ICT without thinking about why we are using it. Chris Abbott's book just might put a brake on that. Academic books like this can be written in the most mind numbing edu-jargon giving a false profundity, ensuring that only the author and a few friends engage with the thoughts. This is refreshingly clear of that; it is lucid with prose that is clear and well structured.

It is a book for everyone. If you have just started with ICT you will find out how it developed in education. If you have been around sometime you will have a trip down memory lane as well as stimulus to further thoughtI and you certainly won't agree with everything.

A fascinating chapter is "Educational Responses to Technology". Abbott goes through the evolution of IT from inkwells through the Banda to the Internet. The section on ILS (Integrated Learning Systems) and SuccessMaker should be read by everyone who feels the urge to spend pound;20,000-pound;30,000 on such systems. Abbott muses on why, with such flimsy evidence to show that it works, ILS excited such interest from policymakers and politicians especially when there is clear evidence that individual ownership of computers by tachers creates profound changes.

Abbott at one time was the director of the sadly missed Inner London Educational Computing Centre and so knows about software and politics from the inside. His chapter about some of those developments at that time are thought provoking as software production moves out of the hands of teachers and LEAs into the commercial area.

The core of the book is where Abbott accurately describes the tension between a technology that has change at its core and an education system that is intent on preserving the status quo. "A touch of anarchy and rather less of the institutional and the formal could create more than even the large sums of money currently being spent are capable of; but perhaps that would be too daunting a prospect for a centrist fin de si`ecle government."

This is an important book. I cannot recommend it too highly. Technology evangelists such as Papert, and critics such as Neil Postman are considered and their ideas evaluated. Developments in other European countries are evaluated in such a way as to challenge the ICT chauvinism here. In the final chapter Abbott supports a middle way, the gradualist approach to change. He points out that up to the present time work on ICT has been "a strident and superficial discourse". This book is neither strident nor superficial.

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