Hang ups

25th October 1996 at 01:00
Any old iron! It's cheering to hear that almost forgotten cry in our street again. The little ones press their noses against the double-glazing. "It's the rag and bone man, my dears," we tell them. "No, it's not," they reply. "It's our technology teacher."

Needless to say, he's no Steptoe. His bellow doesn't quite have the authoritative ring, and really he should have a horse pulling his cart - which is not to say that the home economics teacher, who labours gallantly between the shafts, isn't making a sterling effort. They are both to be warmly congratulated.

Although they aren't in a position to offer ready cash or gold-fish for the contributions we make, they are obligingly indiscriminate about what they are prepared to take.

Touching forelocks (or fetlocks, in her case) they fall greedily on any old tat we put their way. Apparently technology teachers are facing another of their perennial crises.

A recent survey reveals that 90 per cent of technology departments are grossly underfunded. Some have as little as 40p per pupil to spend on resources. According to Professor Alan Smithers of Brunel University, technology teachers "are having to beg, borrow and scrounge resources".

I see nothing wrong with this. Instead of whingeing, teachers should be harnessing their energies - and, indeed, harnessing the home economics staff - and getting into the streets.

My wheelie bin is always at their disposal. I ask for nothing in return, except a courteous acknowledgement in the school newsletter, and a modest round of applause at the next speech day. Whenever they choose to - although not in daylight hours, of course - they can transfer the bin's contents to the school's resources centre and make whatever use of it they wish. The wire from the many Moet Chandon corks should, for instance, be quite enough to keep a group of 14-year-olds fully occupied for a term or two.

I doubt if technology teachers will find much use for the books which I sometimes consign to the bin, but their colleagues surely will.

A few Jeffrey Archers should convince even the most die-hard liberal that phonics can sometimes be better than real books.

Teachers in search of hardware, however, are going to have to look further afield. But they should take heart: it is available, and it's free.

Millions of computers are finding their way to land-fill dumps every year, simply because they don't meet the exacting demands of the modern office.

In the cut-throat world of commerce, there's no place for clapped out, under-powered computers that can't run the latest software. They should obviously be in schools.

Multimedia Exhibitions, with the support of many organisations, including the National Association of Head Teachers, has devised a strategy that could lead to thousands of ageing business PCs spending their twilight years in British classrooms.

As part of its Free Computers for Education scheme, it is drawing up a list of companies which are dumping new technology because it's no longer quite new enough, and a list of schools who are in dire need of hardware. Then, 52 regional committees are going to organise the re-distribution.

What better way could there be to prepare children for the technological challenges of the workplace than by giving them computers which are no longer considered appropriate for the workplace?

It goes without saying that the moaning minnies are having a field day with the usual grizzles about teachers finding IT difficult enough without being lumbered with secondhand kit; about how the best educational multimedia requires hardware of a higher specification than that used in most offices; about how - to quote some daydreamer in the National Association of Advisers in Computer Education - "children need the best".

What children need is teachers who appreciate the value of a wheelie bin when they see one.

Free Computers for Education. Tel: 0181 2510296uarnoldevans@easynet.co. uk

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