Hotlines to Alaska

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
Chris Abbott talks to teachers and parents of primary school children about the advantages of going on-line.

As the parent of children of primary school age, Robert Naylor is quite clear about what he expects schools to be offering in future in the way of on-line resources: "I hope that within five years most primary schools will be on-line; and that primary children will be communicating routinely, via e-mail and live conferences, with their peers in other countries, exchanging all types of cultural, historical, geographical and human interest information. I believe that many primary school libraries will be equipped with multimedia PCs which are permanently hooked into modems and communications systems."

It is not difficult to find people willing to hold such visions of the IT future, but it is perhaps unusual for a parent to be the one outlining the possibilities. Rob Naylor has gone further than this, and is actively supporting teachers at his children's school, Bishop's Down County Primary, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. With a background in offshore exploration, Mr Naylor sees the advent of on-line resources as just one way that primary schools and industry can work more closely together.

Leon Cych, a teacher at a Westminster primary school, is more interested in poetry than offshore exploration, but just as excited about the potential of on-line communications for the children he teaches. As well as setting up two poetry home pages on the World Wide Web, he has been working to get his school on-line, and is the first to admit that pioneers don't always have an easy time. "Obviously, funding considerations are to the fore. The school needs to pay for a phone line, a modem and a subscription to a service provider. They need money for training, and phone bills are a big issue."

The school has had some support from Westminster local education authority, and Mr Cych even managed to arrange some in-service training for the staff at the nearby Cyberia Cafe. "My school has been lucky, because in Westminster we have a technology co-ordinator's cluster group which meets on a regular basis. There is also an advisory teacher for technology who has managed to get funding for equipment, service providers and phone time for three primary schools"

Mr Cych was among the earliest of primary teachers on-line in this country, and he soon discovered that being first is not always desirable: "I had the dubious distinction of being the first customer to sign up with a certain service provider and a lot of their software wasn't properly prepared. Things are a lot better now!"

Another experienced primary school user of on-line resources is Doug Weller from Langley junior and infant school, Solihull. Mr Weller set up a newsgroup called "" which has become very popular. Unfortunately, and through no fault of Mr Weller, it also seems to attract a high proportion of bad-tempered responses, "flaming" in Netspeak, which can be very off-putting. Mr Weller's school was one of the first UK primaries to have its own home page on the World Wide Web. Over the past six months there has been a rapid growth in the number of Internet service providers working with schools. One of the major providers has been surprised by the number of primary schools signing up. "By the summer holidays we expect to have over 100 primary schools on our service, and some of the early ones already have a great deal of experience." One of the first things that most schools do when they get Internet access is to create a World Wide Web home page. These vary tremendously; some are online school brochures while others are information directories for the pupils in that school.

Some of the first examples of primary school home-pages in this country can be seen on RM's EduWeb pages. Schools such as Frithwood primary in Middlesex are real pioneers in this new form of publishing. Frithwood's page includes information about the school, photographs of school activities and links to other areas. As a result, the picture of Class 34 with the helicopter that visited the school can be viewed and downloaded by schools anywhere in the world.

Welford and Wickham primary has taken a different approach with its home page, and has added lots of on-screen interactive buttons and small pictures to make it look more lively. It has even been thoughtful enough to include a link to the area where others can get hold of suitable buttons of their own and pictures for their pages. Welford and Wickham, a Berkshire primary school with only 41 pupils, has already linked with a school in Point Hope, Alaska. The full story is available on its page, with an invitation to readers to contact the school and provide their responses.

Among the primary-aged pupils using the World Wide Web are the youngest girls at the Maynard School, Exeter. They have recently browsed the Web to collect information on topics as diverse as volcanoes, musicians and sports. John Earle, the computing management co-ordinator, aims to ensure that all the girls regard the Internet as an efficient means of finding up-to-date information. He also feels the school can offer something more. "One of the advantages of being all girls is that the pupils do not have any over-enthusiastic boys to knock their confidence when using computers. This is an area where girls definitely benefit from being in a single-sex working environment. All except one of the staff here teaching IT are female."

The Internet and the World Wide Web are exciting tools, but much more will be possible with the arrival of broadband technology which can offer video conferencing and instant delivery of moving pictures to primary schools. Although still in the future for many schools, this kind of activity is happening now in sites such as Robin Hood Primary in Birmingham. IT projects manager Mike Kendall describes it: "The school entered children's artwork into an exhibition over the Internet, and they are establishing an ISDN 30 video and desk-top conferencing network with secondary schools across Birmingham. " This project, set up with industry partners ICL and SIR, is an example of the exciting possibilities just around the corner.



1001 44.610@ LEON CYCH

leon@ poetry. JOHN EARLE



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