Everyone can do IT;Computers for beginners

29th January 1999 at 00:00
It has been called the largest peacetime training exercise ever undertaken: pound;230 million to provide every teacher with the skills to put computers to work in the classroom by 2002. But perhaps the greatest challenge is the attitude of teachers themselves. It is reckoned four out of five lack the necessary confidence to use new technology in the classroom effectively now - although their future salaries may depend on the development of such skills. So will they grasp this new opportunity to "join the world" in the computer revolution, as one head describes it to Gerald Haigh (below)?

Lorry drivers do IT. So do gas fitters. Now it is time for teachers. Computers are here - now. First, the lorry driver. To load as many as 10 cars on to his hi-tech car transporter, he has to adjust the various platforms to exactly the right angles and spacings. This he does quickly and efficiently with the aid of a hand-held computer that dictates the loading sequence and controls the movements of the transporter ramps.

So when he next visits his child's school, can teachers really any longer say to him: "I know we'll have to learn about computers some day, but I hope it's not in my time"?

Next, the gas fitter. He unpacks his laptop in your kitchen and orders parts for your boiler through a link to the central stores. As one headteacher said of the Government's training programme soon to be offered to teachers, "Computers are now the worldI we are now being offered training to help us join the world."

Some teachers are still cautious -or even resistant - and it is easy to see why. Early school computers were difficult to use and, inevitably, were taken over by enthusiasts who often established themselves as high priests of the computer's mysteries.

Fortunately, we are emerging from that now. Just as with radio and the car, we are starting to see that it's not the machine that matters but what it can do for us. The transporter driver hardly looks at his computer; his gaze goes above and beyond, to the effect the computer is having on his vehicle.

Teachers should look at computers in the same way: as support for pupils' learning and as a tool for management and administration (see box).

So is there no pain for all this gain? Beginners may have to work slowly and learn before they can see the benefits, though modern computer programs should make learning much easier. A teacher who was put off computers even three years ago may be surprised by how much more friendly they have become. Today's teachers, too, I guess, are less likely to be intimidated by experts, and will - or should - demand clear, jargon-free explanations.

So don't put off information and communication technology (ICT) training any longer - join the rest of the world. Even if you are planning to retire soon, think of the training as free preparation for hours of learning and enjoyment in your autumn years. You might even enjoy the same kind of experience I had last year - via the Internet, I rediscovered a long-lost friend who emigrated to New Zealand in 1968.


* create stories before children can write by allowing them to move pictures around to tell their own stories. As a result they come to reading and writing with a strong sense of how a story is put together.

* help to structure writing. Teachers find it difficult to persuade children that a piece of writing is a work in progress, to be changed and corrected.This is laborious on paper, and involves the making of a final fair copy. With a word processor, a writer can organise and re-organise their thoughts, try out many ideas, easily cutting and pasting, deleting sentences, trying different words.

* improve presentation - professionally printed, tabulated and illustrated so that they are proud of it, and eager to do more.

* find facts more quickly. A CD-Rom encyclopedia invites further questions and draws the researcher in. The Internet can also be a valuable research tool.

* improve foreign language skills by allowing pupils to hear correct accents and grammar, see lively material on the screen and contact their counterparts in other countries by e-mail.


* help keep class lists tidy and up to date. In the best admin systems, once a new child's details are entered into the system, it never has to be done again. The system picks up this basic entry and uses it whenever it needs to - for school dinner lists, library, class and year lists, reports, exam entries.

* help with attendance records by doing all the calculations, reminding you of pupils whose absence is unexplained, and automatically printing out letters to parents.

* keep your assessment data safe, and allow you to compare one child with another, one subject with another, one year group with another.

* make inventive and attractive classroom materials. Take a picture of a bird on the school field with a digital camera and print colour copies with text for a lesson the same morning.

* share ideas with other teachers, across the country or across the world. 'The TES' Web site (www.tes.co.uk) already has a discussion forum, and the National Grid for Learning has a "Virtual Teachers Centre" (www.vtc.ngfl.gov.uk).

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