Is it a grid or patchwork quilt?

13th October 2000 at 01:00
By 2002 the Government's strategy for the National Grid for Learning should be in place and teachers trained. That's the theory. So how is it going? It helps to use the analysis put forward by the "keeper" of the learning grid, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency. The three key issues are: infrastructure; content and staff development.

There is no doubt that the infrastructure is being put in place. The latest Government data (News, p2) reveals that most schools are connected to the Net, but there is no break-down of figures. So we don't know what proportion are the necessary network connections or dial-up connections. If we had followed the US model of connecting every classroom, the figures would be more meaningful.

A problem looking for a solution by senior political action is bandwidth - the speed of the connections. Successive governments have failed to establish a national network for schools and colleges. Alan Teece now views it as more of a "patchwork quilt" (feature, p10). That's sad, but it's not too late. There are plenty of people in the industry with vision - take RM's Tim Clark (right). He says that the scramble to cash in on mobile telephony has clouded what should have been obvious - reserving bandwidth for free access to radio networking for education and public institutions.

Content for the learning grid is building up towards critical mass as the UK is fortunate to have a healthy educaional software industry. But politicians should be careful to nurture it and not damage its ecosystem. While the DFEE's wish to develop broadband services is welcome, its reference to "kitemarking" is alarming. They don't kitemark books, so why cause problems here?

More problematic is the BBC's planned "digital curriculum. Its websites were among the first that could be used in classrooms, so its activities are well respected, admired even. However, the plan to make pound;135m worth of materials available on the Web for education does have implications for other companies who have to charge for their services. The consultation period should be very interesting.

According to NOF trainers, the TTA's quality assurance is rigorous and helpful. This makes it even more of a pity that the TTA will not make qualitative information available to help teachers and schools make informed choices. This scheme will develop ICT training to a point where it can probably become an export. But the lack of TTA feedback is short-sighted and probably has more to do with commercial sensitivities than education.

On a lighter note, lets hope this extract from my Online editorial (May 15, 1998) isn't an omen: "The grand plan to train all British teachers in ICT by the year 2002 is also getting under way. It is being funded by pound;230 million of Lottery profits and is surrounded by the same kind of built-in 'mustn't fail' aura as the Dome." Oh dear ...

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