Internet insights

14th April 2000 at 01:00
IF TEACHERS want research to help them teach better, the Internet should be an obvious place to find it, so why isn't it there?

Most university researchers write their reports on computers that are connected to the Internet. So putting them on to the Web is hardly more difficult than printing.

But established practice and career considerations combine to keep large amounts of material tied to low-circulation, subscription-only journals that are only read by other academics.

US professor Stevan Harnad has called this a "Faustian contract".

Bargains with publishers leave us unable, he says, to take real advantage of the speed of electronic exchange.

His 10-year-old slogan - still on-line at

is that we could be "accelerating scholarly communication to something closer to the speed of thought".

His recent article at


is optimistic that a new Open Archive Initiative will start to bring all the available research directly to Internet readers. For schoolteachers that would mean straight into school on the day it was written.

COUNTER-INTUITIVE research findings are always the most interesting. It is fascinating to learn, for example, that English teachers are more likely than science teachers to use computers with key stages 3 and 4 classes.

It is also surprising that music teachers are five times more likely than maths specialists to use computers with A-level classes; that children aged 4 to 15 watch less television than 16 to 34-year-olds; and tht in the six years up to 1998 children's TV viewing dropped by a tenth. to less than 18 hours a week.

These nuggets come from StatBase, one of the treasures to be found at the Government Statistical Service's website "The Source" at

It stores a huge amount of material on schools and local education authorities. Much is free, but some (shamefully) has to be purchased.

THE TIME children spend on homework should have an effect on national test scores. The amount of homework help that parents give should also affect results. However, a new US report questions these commonsense ideas.

Countries such as Spain that do more homework do not get the best science and maths results. And the US, with the most helpful parents, does no better than countries with less dutiful Mums and Dads. Elementary and Secondary Education: An International Perspective is a 204-page report, from the US National Center for Education Statistics at:


The report includes data and analysis on teacher, pupil, and school characteristics, student achievement and spending. The US, England, and 10 other countries are compared using results from surveys such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

On gender differences the report concludes: "It is interesting to note that in nearly every country where gender gaps existed, they favoured boys in mathematics and science and girls in reading."

Readers can e-mail suggestions

on future Internet Insights to

Sam Saunders at

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