Dewar signals dawn of digital school

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
SCOTTISH ministers, accused of losing their radical policy edges, are set to drive forward a revolution in schooling. The Executive wants schools to begin radically rethinking their role and how it will be affected by the new technologies, from teaching approaches to building design.

Donald Dewar, the First Minister, said last week at the largely unreported launch of the Executive's response to the report from the Digital Scotland task force that the IT revolution would require "action across the whole of the education and training sectors to ensure that the workforce and population at large has the skills to function in the new world that is coming".

Mr Dewar began to signal ministerial thinking at Labour's Scottish conference in March when he called for changes to teaching methods and the school curriculum, including an end to the "watertight compartments of subject specialisation". He repeated his view last week that the increasing application of information and communications technology (ICT) to teaching would alter teaching fundamentally.

The First Minister also announced the appointment of Peter Peacock, Deputy Children and Education Minister, as Scotland's first "e-minister". Mr Peacock has already flagged up his own emerging thinking. At a private dinner in June organised by the Scottish Council Development and Industry, he said schools and others would have to stat asking challenging questions such as whether the latest knowledge about how children learn is being applied in the classroom, how ICT should shift the balance to a "learnercentred" process, and what new technologies might mean for the size and design of schools.

Mr Peacock called for a debate about what children are being educated for to help them cope with the future. The elements would include "uncertainty, risk and change - certainly not certainty". He also, intriguingly, acknowledged criticisms that schools and pupils have been judged by what can be easily measured but there now needed to be a move to measure less tangible aptitudes required for "the rounded, creative, flexible, adaptable, considerate, learning citizen".

He also accepted that, if radical change was agreed as necessary, the real challenge would be to obtain consent for it. The Executive's first step will therefore be to set up pilot schemes with education authorities and other providers to explore approaches to learning in "the school of the future". They will be helped by a "future schools" unit within the Scottish Executive Education Department.

Mr Peacock and Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, have already met council leaders to sketch out their ideas. The initiative will also be driven by the Scottish National Grid for Learning which is to develop "electronic learning environments".

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