BETT is becoming a truly global event. Not only are international visitors beating a path to Olympia in increasing numbers, a growing band of overseas suppliers are also signing up for the show, with countries ranging from Romania to Australia now represented on the list of exhibitors. For any school aiming to widen its horizons through the use of technology, the global dimension is very good news.
Mark Roelofsen, international manager of the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa), the show's organisers, says: "Last year, 8.84 per cent of our visitors were international, and the figure is rising every year. We help organise some of the major delegations, but there are also overseas teaching bodies which arrange their own visits, using the trip as their annual get-together and holding mini-conferences in London hotels."
BETT is a major focus for the international policymakers who take part in the British Council's annual study tour on educational ICT, which runs for the whole week. They will be taking in visits to London schools, and to Highwire, the city learning centre in the London borough of Hackney. The British Council helps delegates follow up on areas of interest by organising seminars in this country and overseas.
The British Council has also lent its support to a major international ICT Conference taking place on January 9, at the Department of Trade and Industry Conference Centre in London. The annual event is organised by Besa, and this year will explore how different nations can learn from each other as they develop and implement e-learning strategies. "It gives international visitors the chance to hear about the latest policies and initiatives in the UK - helping set the scene for what they will see at BETT - and they also share their experiences," says Roelofsen. "This year we are focusing on the government's e-learning strategy, using core elements as our supporting themes: transforming teaching and learning, engaging hard-to-reach learners, making more use of online delivery and achieving greater efficiency. There will also be a series of workshops where delegates from a particular region - Asia Pacific, for example, or sub-Saharan Africa - can work together on common areas of interest."
Sharing a global vision is this year's theme for Moving Young Minds, the annual seminar that provides education ministers from around the world with an opportunity to share their views and experiences of ICT. They assemble at the invitation-only event on January 9, and afterwards ministers will have the chance to see ICT in action in schools as well as visiting BETT.
"Most of the work we do with the official delegations is on positioning the UK as an experienced partner that has gone through the learning curve and can provide expertise and resources," says Roelofsen. "We do not expect other countries to replicate everything that happens in the UK, but there may be an area where they can learn from us - it could be teacher training, the introduction of ICT as a core subject, or how government, schools and the private sector can work together. Governments can be cautious about dealing with the private sector, and coming to BETT gives them confidence they can do business. They also see the benefits of allowing teachers to make the decisions on which hardware and software to go for."
He says that visitors don't necessarily come seeking the latest, cutting-edge technology - above all, products have to be practical and effective. "Interactive whiteboards are popular, because people can very quickly understand the role they can play in the classroom. Visitors are interested in how we use ICT to support pupils with special needs, and they are often pleasantly surprised at how technology is employed in early years education. Peripherals such as data-loggers attract a lot of attention.
Science is a universal subject, and one that all countries are having problems engaging students in."
He believes that international co-operation between suppliers will help schools around the world to share resources and collaborate on projects.
"We are looking at the kind of scenario where a UK supplier might have partners who are creating versions of a product - a science package, for example - for the markets in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. If schools in different parts of the world are able to work with very similar software, swapping data and working on joint projects, that promotes greater cross-fertilisation of ideas and good practice, as well as adding a fascinating new dimension for students."
Seminars delivered by international speakers:
Wednesday, January 11
11am: Helping Teachers Use Technology in Ways that Change Student Engagement and Improve Learning. Monica Beglau, eMINTS Centre, Missouri, USA
Thursday, January 12
10.30am: Literacy Intervention Strategies: Exceptional Learning and Gifted Education. John Munro, University of Melbourne, Australia
12.30pm: BUILT: Building Understanding in Literacy and Teaching. Bradley Shrimpton, University of Melbourne, Australia
4.15pm: Practical Advice for Educators Looking to Upgrade their Technology Departments. Dennis Bruno, Glendale School District, USA
Besa Stand L35 can help with setting up appointments and advice on what to see. International visitors can also meet and relax in the show's International Lounge.