Hang Ups

24th February 1995 at 00:00
As you while away a balmy half term break, engaged in nothing more stressful than a little lazy marking, spare a thought for Mr Jeff Howson, an IT teacher at Kings School, Grantham. He is enduring temperatures in the eighties, predictably azure seas and the tedium of unrelentingly golden beaches.

The poor man has drawn the short straw and been obliged to suffer a fortnight in Barbados. His ordeal is somewhat alleviated by the presence of the school's cricket team not that he'll have much time for the flannelled fools. (Kipling's phrase, not mine I don't relish the prospect of XI sunburnt youths round my place wielding cricket stumps.) Mr Howson's kit bag doesn't contain jockstrap, embroidered woolly and wintergreen, but laptops, modems, a scanner, Ion camera, tele-conferencing equipment and a list of jobs as long as Lara's inside leg.

Mr Howson had the bright idea - the brightest idea any IT teacher has ever had of combining the cricket tour with some interesting experiments in electronic mail. He's offering subscribers to Campus 2000, if not a ball-by-ball commentary, at least a daily account of the tour.

He's also persuading Bajan pupils to provide Campus with a weekly electronic newsletter, and is linking expatriates in the UK with friends and families on the island. He will also find time to digitise photographs, try out recipes, collect folk tales, record interviews and log weather data. He'll make this material available on his return to this country.

It is being supplemented by the Barbados Tourist Authority who have provided Campus with a database of background material and project ideas which could be used in a range of subjects covering the whole curriculum.

This is one of scores of projects available to Campus subscribers. They can dial up scientists, join in newspaper days, save the environment, log on to the Minitel network in France and suchlike. Over 4,000 schools already participate, but many more will want to join before the end of the year when Campus will, for the first time, offer not just its own services but access to the mighty Internet.

In theory, it really is easy for schools to get on-line: all they need is a subscription to Campus (or one of the other gateways), a telephone line, a modem and here's the rub the money to pay the telephone bill. Head teachers, it seems, can be brow-beaten into buying hardware. Sometimes they can even be coerced into shelling out for software. But mention telephone bills, and they get the collywobbles.

Gillian Shephard told visitors to this year's BETT show that she wanted to see British schools in the fast lane of the information superhighway, and wanted advice from educationists on how best to achieve this. She'll receive worthy submissions, set up working parties and issue consultative documents. But, in fact, it's obvious that there is only one thing that she really needs to do.

With the help of her cabinet colleagues, she must bully BT into dropping all telephone charges for the time spent by schools on Campus 2000. A company making such gargantuan profits would hardly notice the loss in revenue which is probably less than the fortune already being spent on those dreadfully condescending Bob Hoskins commercials.

Freed from the terrors of the quarterly bill, schools would rush to subscribe to Campus which, since it's owned by BT, would boost the company's profits even further. But it would also enable pupils to learn the technology and to make contact with people around the world. Information technology teachers might start by encouraging the cricket XI to arrange some overseas fixtures. The chaps will need someone to carry their bags.

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