Creative thought needed for ICT

18th December 1998 at 00:00
Teachers who are not comfortable in front of a computer are failing to make the most of new technology in the classroom, ministers have been warned.

At a conference to launch the BBC's education website Ian Smith and David Eastwood, of the Educational Broadcasting Council for Scotland, said teachers had to be convinced about the benefits of information and communications technology (ICT), before they could inspire their pupils.

Modern technology had to enable pupils to acquire the basic "tools for thought," Mr Smith and Mr Eastwood suggested.

Mr Smith, who runs his own company Learning Unlimited, and Mr Eastwood, a former secondary head and retired senior education officer with Aberdeen City Council, told the conference the impact of technology in the classroom had been "minimal".

"For 20 years the promise has been that there would be 'jam tomorrow', but none has yet reached the staffroom nor the classroom," he said.

Lord Macdonald, the business and industry minister, standing in for the education minister, reminded delegates that there would be substantial pots of jam on offer - Pounds 62 million over the next three years to help build the National Grid for Learning, and Pounds 29 million for further education colleges. There is also the Pounds 23 million from the lottery fund over three years which would train teachers and librarians to incorporate ICT in their work.

Mr Smith and Mr Eastwood suggested that ICT could help those pupils turned off by the curriculum. In large classes interactive technology allowed direct contact with the information, which could boost learning.

This view was backed by one boy seen on a video from Northfield Academy, Aberdeen: "The computer gives you more attention and doesn't walk away when someone puts their hand up."

Once pupils were motivated and given the opportunity to process information, the next major challenge was for the teacher to provide quality feedback. Schools should question whether the present system teaches pupils to learn most effectively, and whether teachers have time to learn, Mr Smith said.

Mr Eastwood suggested the distinction between the teacher and the learner should disappear. He called for teachers to engage more constructively as learners with pupils instead of being "objective" deliverers of knowledge.

"Staff must be involved directly in the use of digital technology," he said, "not just learn what it is". He said an inappropriate 80 per cent of technology use in schools was for drill and practice routines.

Nigel Paine, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, took up this point. "We don't want couch potatoes, we want athletes. It is not good enough merely to participate in drill and practice, we require creativity," he said.

Mr Paine said computers had to be part of every teacher's life. "We can't manage with only 10 per cent of teachers being ICT-literate."

The conference heard from St Andrew's High in Kirkcaldy, chosen by Apple as one of its prototype "classrooms of tomorrow". Tony Finn, the head, and Margaret McPhail, the project leader, said technology had to be "demythologised".

Software and hardware limitations also posed problems, and technical support was often too scarce for teachers who were not given time to develop their skills.

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