In defence of computers

13th October 2000 at 01:00
DEBBIE Davies asks ( TES, September 29): "Do primary pupils need computers?" It is important we draw the right conclusion.

I am concerned that comments on the use of computers in primary schools should reflect our experience. The Alliance for Childhood's research [which suggested computers are inappropriate for young children] was conducted in the USA where there is a tendency to use instructional software as opposed to the more exploratory-based content used in the UK.

Our policies are aimed at supporting teaching and learning. That is why we are investing pound;230 million in training teachers in how to use computers effectively; that is why we are targeting 15 per cent of National Grid for Learning funding directly at content which the schools themselves can determine; and that is why - to ensure that all children irrespective of their home circumstances, get effective access - we are committing more than pound;1 billion over the next four years to equip schools with technology.

We don't want just to sit children in front of computers and let them get on with it. Ms Davies omits a whole range of possble developments. For example, recently 10 and 11-year-olds at Robin Hood School in Birmingham were taught about abstract art through video-conferencing by a university professor many miles away: this shows technology's potential to enhance learning.

We do share Ms Davies' concerns about inappropriate use of the web, which is why we have guidance on superhighway safety, and why we would not expect any primary to provide unfiltered access. But her criticism of a residential school trip again misses the point. I would invite everyone to check out the Malton Community primary's website ( and make up their own mind whether technology has enhanced or detracted from these pupils' residential experience. I know they and their teachers believe the net is greatly enhancing their learning.

Teachers are still exploring how to use the technology but its potential to enhance learning is clear. The question is not "whether" but "how best?"

Michael Wills

Minister for Learning and Technology

Department for Education and Employment, London SW1

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