Has the sheen come off ICT?

8th June 2001 at 01:00
In the election campaign just ended, Labour didn't seem to feel that educational information and communications technology (ICT) had the same poll appeal as before. Maybe politicians are not so sure of their grasp of it. Last time around they had no baggage as well as the Stevenson Report for a sensible strategy; this time they can be judged on their performance, and there's the patchy Rothschild Report to come (see www.tes.co.ukonline for a sneak preview).

There is no doubting the last Government's commitment to developing ICT in schools, backed by considerable funding. However, there are pressing problems to be addressed. Statistics show that most schools are now connected to the Internet but the negative feedback from many is of slow networks and, so far, little has been done nationally to develop broadband availability to solve this.

Another cause for concern is the patchy performance of the NOFTTA national training scheme for teachers. Ofsted has confirmed that (despite the TTA and NOF's wishes to keep it quiet) the scheme has problems in need of urgent action (news, p4). The lessons learned from this important scheme should inform the continuous professional development that must follow NOF.

Then there is the thorny subject of Curriculum Online and the proposal to put the BBC and Granada in pole position for providing digital materials on the National Grid for Learning. While teachers will no doubt appreciate some free maerials online from the government there are serious implications for the small software publishers. David Puttnam is right to encourage companies and organisations to play a full part in the consultations, even if they are critical (news, p5).

He would say that wouldn't he? It would be easy to react in that way to Malcolm Herbert (comment, right) as he works for Red Hat, a firm that sells open source technology. But his message about open source software, like Linux, is important.

Despite pockets of innovation, education is still a relatively conservative market. Major funding decisions are often made on the basis of spurious notions of some sort of technological orthodoxy - one that doesn't exist. As a result, many schemes cost more than they should - and a sizeable slice of this cash may well end up in the already deep pockets of Microsoft. A quick call to any open source user can establish the possible savings.

Many decision makers out there still would not even consider technology like Psion's netBook (cutting edge, p8) and Apple's iBook (hands on, p21) even though the people who use these laptops in schools can point to significant advantages for students and teachers. This attitude is particularly curious when we hear the lip service paid to the concept that schools should have choice.

In our September issue we will take a closer look at Linux and open source developments.

Merlin John, TES Online editor

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