Digital diversion

29th September 2000 at 01:00
IT IS SYMBOLIC but more than a symbol: the teachers who missed out on subsidised home computers last time round will be glad to hear this week's announcement that the scheme is under way again. That is more than a symbol to them, but Peter Peacock, the e-minister for education, made the point at the Fusion 2000 conference (page four) that just as the technological revolution demands teacher involvement (hence the financial leg-up), so the advance of technology in the classroom is dependent on teachers. Even machines that recognise their users' voices will not replace the human mentor.

For teachers then, so far so good. A fundamental question remains: how much will education change because of the demands and opportunities coming in the wake of information and communications technology? The First Minister last week launched the era of digital schools, from which among other things the rigid compartmentalisation of th curriculum will have to be banished. Mr Peacock wants schools to face the challenges of continuous uncertainty and risk taking, where measures of achievement recognise creativity and flexibility.

Again, so far so promising. But how do these glimpses of the future square with reality in which social subject teachers continue to battle for autonomy and for victory in the annual battle for S3 pupil choices, and official judgments about a school's performance are founded on mundane criteria?

Faced with last week's Digital Scotland task force report and this week's high-tech exhibition and conference, ministers are "like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken". They will soon come down to reality when in the McCrone implementation group they are faced with marginally shifting entrenched attitudes. It is easier to get a handle on cyberspace than on teachers' conditions of service.

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