John Chambers believes the Internet is the most important issue facing British education. Chris Johnston reports
BRITAIN will get left behind unless it embraces the Internet in education more quickly, a leader of the high-tech revolution has warned.
John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems - which claims to be the world's biggest computer networking company - made the comment while meeting business leaders and government ministers in London last week.
He said that Britain was lagging 12 to 18 months behind the United States - a big gap because of the rapid pace of change.
However, the UK had the advantage of being able to act as a nation, unlike the US where many decisions are made by the individual states.
The matter is vital because, according to Mr Chambers, the Internet and other forms of networking will radically alter the way education is delivered.
"It will change everything - the way we work, live and play, but nowhere will its impact be greater than on the way we learn," Mr Chambers said.
Education systems in most nations still teach pupils traditionally, but this will not prepare students for the multiple jobs they will have in their lives, he added.
The emphasis needs to be on teaching students how to learn, and he believes the Internet will be the main way for delivering education in the future. "It will allow us to study whatever topics we want in whatever timeframes we want and in a much more cost-effective way."
Mr Chambers said although the estimated number of job vacancies in the information technology sector in western Europe will rise from 500,000 this year to 1.5 million in 2002, the education system is failing to prepare students with the skills needed to fill them.
Cisco, which manufactures much of the equipment that carries Internet traffic, is attempting to address this shortage with its Networking Academy programme, which will graduate 10,000 students worldwide next year.
Established last month in Britain, there are five regional academies at universities, which will train local academies - mostly FE colleges. Cisco plans to spend pound;1 million over the next two years on the programme.
The Internet revolution, Mr Chambers said, will see jobs go to countries that have the necessary infrastructure and a skilled workforce. The growth of the Net to date indicates that these changes will happen very quickly, he added.
Mr Chambers said Charles Clarke, the school standards minister, understood the need for government to work with business and the importance of altering college and school curricula and training lecturers and teachers to better use technology.
The Cisco chief met with Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and Peter Mandelson, the Trade and Industry secretary, last week and believed both had an awareness of the impact the Internet will have on industry and education.
Home Net connections would soon become a very hot political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr Chambers predicted: "Just as not having a phone is unacceptable in today's society, not having Internet connectivity will be the same."
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