Island makes the link

17th January 2003 at 00:00
New technology is being released from the ghetto of the IT suite and becoming a part of everyday classroom life

On a clear day you can see France from St Sampson's secondary. Actually, the view is of the Cape de la Hague nuclear reprocessing plant and is not so great. But the electricity the plant supplies helps power a very different window on the world at the front of John Watkins's science class.

Pupils can study geography, or any other subject, on the interactive whiteboard, a giant computer monitor that takes the place of the traditional blackboard and does much, much more. This is the most visible sign of an extraordinary pound;13.2 million investment in new technology that has wired up every teacher and classroom on the island. Guernsey is 70 miles from the British coast, but its 27 schools are among the best connected in the British Isles.

So when John Watkins wants to teach his class about the human body, he can put diagrams on screen using his laptop, then move the bits and pieces around. Or pupils can assemble or label the illustrations by dragging the images around. If they want more detail, he can zoom in or run off printed copies.

The whiteboards can also project images from cameras in the lab. So instead of gathering around his desk to see a ball of potassium explode, students stay in the safety of their seats and watch a full view of it on a screen that can also work as a television, as children at Forest primary down the road discovered during last summer's World Cup.

Forest headteacher Gary Le Huray says the school, the first on the island to install an interactive whiteboard, was so impressed with it that, with the help of local businesses and the PTA, it installed one in every classroom. He says: "They have brought excitement back into planning, allowing more opportunities for teachers to be creative. ICT now permeates every area of the curriculum."

The authority-wide investment is prompted partly by Guernsey's isolation. It is also driven by economic logic. With few natural resources, Guernsey relies on the skills of its workforce, and on a healthy balance of payments, to retain young people. Around 60 per cent of the population lives off banking or associated industries, which rely on computerised networks.

"ICT and a skilled population are crucial for the economy," says Rob Couch, project manager for the Guernsey Grid for Learning, who helped devise the island's investment programme. Funding is from Guernsey taxpayers and the island's government. (Its schools are neither governed nor funded by the DfES.) Every classroom on the island is cabled up, with around one computer for every five primary children and for every three secondary pupils.

Most of the computers arrived last year, and the day is not far off when pupils file homework by email. But it is the island's teachers who have seen the biggest change. Each one has a laptop and more than four out of five do lesson plans and basic administration electronically.

St Sampson's has three IT suites. Registration is done on the computer, and the school has software for handling exam results. "The other week we did in 10 minutes what used to take one person a day," says John Watkins.

Now the island is building a giant educational website with a library of curriculum materials available to all, including families at home. This next phase of development is potentially the most far-reaching.

Cost is a big issue. Much of the equipment is on a four-year replacement cycle. But Guernsey has accepted this, and has even extended the computerisation drive into other public services, ensuring island-wide compatibility.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, careful research means Guernsey has avoided the catastrophic failures associated with so many public-sector computer projects. "We have been tight on the management," says Rob Couch. "We are on time and on budget."

ONES TO WATCH

South Yorkshire Four-year, pound;50 million scheme to build Europe's biggest e-learning network

Edinburgh Plans to issue every child over eight with a laptop within five years

Nottingham Making the internet accessible to all schools and council residents

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