C2k is changing the face of ICTin schools across Northern Ireland, Jack Kenny wonders when the rest of the UK will catch up?
Good practice in ICT is not just about teachers and schools. It can be far wider than that. While England seems hell bent on increasing the disparities between schools as far as ICT is concerned, the opposite is true in Northern Ireland. All schools there have been resourced centrally through the strategy known as Curriculum 2000 (C2k).
Jimmy Stewart, director of C2k, says that the advantages of C2k are the ability to deliver significant changes to teaching and learning. He is certain that the co-ordinated approach provides better value for money.
More important, he believes that it is easier to ensure that all children get their "ICT entitlement".
Through C2k, all schools in Northern Ireland get hardware and a core-managed service at no cost to themselves. The advantage to schools is that teachers and pupils are free to concentrate on teaching and learning, while the providers ensure that the ICT service continues to work to meet their needs.
In schools there are substantial numbers of new machines, and when hardware goes wrong it is repaired within hours. On top of this, the internet will soon work better because next year all schools will store commonly used web pages.
A primary school now has access to some 80 software titles (agreed through consultation with schools) that directly support the local curriculum.
Around 200 approved titles are provided for all post-primary and special schools in the province. And teachers can put any or all of the software titles on their PCs at home too. Halfway through the 10-year contract all schools will have their equipment "refreshed". In other words some will be replaced and some brought up to date. The whole project costs the schools nothing. It is additional funding.
Viglen won the contract to supply the primary schools and RM supplied the secondaries sector (post primary), and all schools are now fully equipped.
How are schools affected? One of the pilot schools, the William Pinkerton Memorial School in Dervock, has 68 children and five teachers, three full-time and two part-time. The school has eight new computers, a digital camera, a scanner and web camera, with over 80 pieces of software. All the hardware and software is supported centrally.
One of the original beliefs of C2k was that teachers would be liberated from technical concerns so that they could be free to teach and to reflect on the role of ICT. You see that in action at Aquinas College in Belfast.
ICT is managed in the college by a young enthusiastic team under the guidance of Eugene Leneghan, head of ICT and geography. Their conversation is refreshingly free from worries about the technicalities; they have focused on the pedagogy and curriculum issues. Aquinas College illustrates that although they have been resourced from the centre they have managed to stamp their own priorities on what they do.
The C2k equipment was not a drain on the schools' budget and so they are free to boost their ICT resources from their own funds. They have concentrated on interactive whiteboards; with interactive whiteboards installed in all 44 teaching spaces. Not only that, the ICT core group has developed skills necessary to use the whiteboards intensively and they have transmitted those skills to other schools. The team is backed by a principal who is as enthusiastic as his team. They are unanimous in their praise of the achievement of C2k.
Ballymena Primary School headteacher Harold Brownlow and Rosemary Lee, who leads on ICT for the school, have already built on their C2k infrastructure. There is an ICT suite with 16 PCs, and each room has a mini-cluster of between six and nine computers. In January this year the Children and Teachers and Parents Using Laptops Together project was launched in one class. This allows laptops to be taken home for homework assignments. This month the project is being extended to a further three classes. Not only that, the school has been recognised as an OCR accredited centre where continued and ongoing training can be offered to both staff and parents.
C2k is still moving ahead. Stewart describes the immediate plans: "Almost all schools are now connected to the wide area network. We are just about to switch on Learning NI that will be launched this academic year. It will be based on Hyperwave software, a virtual learning environment that will go into all schools. We will use it to support the new curriculum. Teachers will create materials and the library of content, available now, is from Learn Premium initially and we will build on that with the BBC content when that comes online."
Remember the plan for the National Grid for Learning? Northern Ireland seems to have created its own NGfL. Don't you wonder when the rest of the UK will follow suit?
* ICT entitlement for all children is crucial
* Free teachers to teach.
* Consult widely
* Create a managed service and take the risk of managing ICT away from schools
* Use the economies of scale to obtain better value for money Key technology
* Digital cameravideo camera
* Web camera
* Digital projector
* www.c2kni.org.uknews survey21.htm
C2k evaluation report - the first report on the project.
* www.c2kni.org.uk C2k - lists all the services and gives case studies.
* www.becta.org.ukresearchresearch.cfm?section=1amp;id=544 Total cost of ownership - a key idea in the provision and use of ICT in schools.
Hyperwave - the VLE software company that is being used by C2k.
* www.elearningfutures.comtemplatestemplate3.asp?id=1 Northern Ireland eLearning Partnership - a website about developing the mechanisms needed to operate an e-learning service in Northern Ireland.