Hang ups

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
As you read this, you may be suffering the after-effects of a long night spent either celebrating the election results or drowning your sorrows, but, at least, you have the comfort of knowing that it's all over. Take pity on me. As I write this, polling day is still a week away. And a week is a long time in politics - especially when you can't open a newspaper or watch television or answer your front door without running the risk of being talked at loudly by another politician.

I'm still torn by indecision. Not about who to vote for - I'm in one of those constituencies where the result is a foregone conclusion - but on how much I should bet that the Lib Dems will form the next government. My bookie is currently offering odds of 1,500 to 1. Perhaps I will decide to chance my life's savings and perhaps the Great British Public will decide it wants to pay an extra penny in the pound on income tax to fund education. In which case, by the time you read this, I'll be well on my way to the Seychelles and won't give a hoot about what Mr Ashdown does with all those pennies.

If, on the other hand, he does as dismally as the polls predict, I'll be in the same position as every teacher in the country: wondering if education, education, education really will undergo the sea change that the politicians have promised.

There's certainly no doubt that all the parties - and probably that includes the yogic flyers and Sir James - are determined that information and communication technology (ICT) is the best thing to have happened to education since the discovery of chalk. Give politicians a photo opportunity in a school - why teachers allow them in I'll never understand - and they will rush to the nearest computer, beaming as proudly as if they'd invented the damn thing. They know that coming out squarely in favour of the new technology isn't going to lose them any votes, and might even win them a few. What's more, they always find it easier to day-dream about the joys of the information superhighway than to address the more pressing problems of how to stem the exodus from the teaching profession or find the Pounds 3 billion needed to fix crumbling school buildings.

Labour has, at least, promised to devote some lottery money to providing teachers with training in ICT - and, by the time you read this, the Conservatives, Sir James and the rest of them will probably have followed suit. There is no doubt that the training is desperately needed. OFSTED figures suggest that two-thirds of the profession make little or no use of computers in their lessons. Asda (not another acronym, but the supermarket chain) arrived at a similarly gloomy conclusion after its own survey into ICT in the classroom. It resorted to the dubious - if ingenious - ploy of persuading teachers to grass on their colleagues. More than 75 per cent of those who were interviewed reckoned that the staff in their schools didn't have the expertise or the know-how to make effective use of new technology.

Lack of training is only one aspect of the problem: however skilled teachers become, they will never be able to use computers in their lessons if they don't have computers to use. As the survey revealed, 99 per cent of teachers reckoned that schools were hopelessly under-equipped.

But, whether it's the Conservatives or Labour who are quaffing the bubbly today, the sums remain stubbornly the same: an increase in spending on ICT can only be at the expense of other resources. More computers would inevitably mean fewer repairs, fewer books - and fewer jobs. Unless, of course, the new government can find the money to turn the politicians' rhetoric into reality.

Will that happen? At the time of writing, I reckon a few bob on Mr Ashdown moving into Number 10 is a safer bet.

* arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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