Hang ups

10th January 1997 at 00:00
They will be dancing in the streets of cardboard city when John Major announces a scheme which he hopes will prove that he has his finger on the nation's pulse. He has taken a long look at the problems that besiege us - beleaguered schools, a tottering health service, the lawless streets - and decided that there is one, election-winning, issue what worries people more than any other. It's the lack of adequate training in IT.

According to The Times, Mr Major has given his blessing to plans which will offer every adult in the UK the chance the learn how to use computers. Everyone will receive a voucher to take to their nearest college or Dixons showroom where it can be exchanged for sessions in front of a VDU. The scheme will be limited to adults because, as a "Downing Street source" informed The Times: "We don't think the children are so important. They are already computer literate. " This will come as welcome news to teachers who have been labouring under the mistaken impression that children needed to be taught IT.

The truth, of course, is that bland generalisations about children being "computer-literate" disguise the growing chasm between those who genuinely are good at IT, and the others who still haven't got a clue. Some children attend well-equipped schools where teachers have developed strategies which ensure that it is integrated into the curriculum. The luckiest also have a computer at home, and so can consolidate the work they have done in class.

But there are woefully under-equipped schools where most pupils don't have home computers. If Mr Major really wanted to underline the importance of IT, he'd announce plans designed to provide all children with an equal opportunity to use a PC.

It's a policy which might even prove popular. The same can't be said for his plan to dish out vouchers to the adult population. Every computer-illiterate I've spoken to seems to be singularly underwhelmed by the offer. Vouchers, they say, should only go to those in most need. They could be exchanged for the things they would desperately like to have - such as a square meal.

These are early days. Even the most chronic technophobes will change their tune when the Government's publicity machine grinds into action and persuades them they must not only learn to use a computer, but also buy one to practise on.

It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that the voucher scheme will be funded by major players in the IT industry who obviously see it as a guaranteed way of boosting sales. The denizens of cardboard city won't miss out on the bonanza. It might be the well-heeled who get the hardware, but we will be more than happy to hand over the stout packaging in which it arrives to anyone who might make good use of it.

* arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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