Connected at a cost;Letter

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Considering the implementation of the Government's pledge to connect all schools to the National Grid for Learning, are colleagues out there in schools as mystified as I am?

I hear that schools are being "offered" a single PC connected via an ISDN line to an Internet Service Provider. One has to question the nature of such an offer.

Where is this computer to be located? The school library? Who will use it? When? How will access be managed? Is this the right solution for every school? Is the offer made to fit in with a budget, a policy which aims to meet a rashly made promise, or to provide an effective resource for a whole school? Who is making these judgments on behalf of schools, many of which are ill-equipped to evaluate the offer?

In 1993, a small consortium of six schools (primary, secondary, and special) was invited to investigate the use of the Internet in education (Project Connect). The computing industry provided equipment and services, schools provided the educational expertise. Within weeks, it became clear that the one-PC solution would not work. Even at a time when the Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, was a far less sophisticated resource than it is today, it was recognised that there would be large numbers of pupils and several teachers vying for their place at the keyboard. Also, ISDN telephony provides the bandwidth to allow many simultaneous connections.

In my school, up to 25 PCs can connect to the Web concurrently before performance degrades from the user's point of view. That is, any 25 PCs from the 175 on our site-wide local area network can connect to the WWW!

This is not some heavily-endowed public school or CTC. It is a standard 11-18 co-educational comprehensive of 1,000 pupils. These PCs also provide users with a consistent set of software applications, information resources, integrated learning systems programs, as well as electronic mail for all.

It may be unfair to blame central government for the implementation of a laudable policy. Surely implementation is the remit of LEAs? On the other hand, LEAs may feel under pressure to ensure that all schools get connected, however ineffectively. As seems usual in these cases, the needs of schools fall into the cracks between the policy expressed by central government and the activities of local government in implementation.

Keith Byrom IT co-ordinator 26 St Anthony's Road Kettering Northamptonshire

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