Listening skills for politicians too

1st November 2002 at 00:00
It's reassuring to know that young people are not quite the game-obsessed, dodgy website-visiting young miscreants they are often made out to be in the popular press (cover story pages 16-17). Life's full of pleasant suprises - like Wales' football triumph over Italy - and these stories are extremely warming for the interested communities.

This research shows that the huge investments in ICT in schools will be appreciated and exploited by young people where they have access.

And the educational ICT community has been rather overshadowed of late by the short circuits that have been dimming the National Grid for Learning. The people the Government intends to help - along with teachers and students - are the companies who produce the exciting digital materials students and teachers will be using in Curriculum Online. And they say they are in crisis (news p4). "The government has just six weeks to save software suppliers," one key publisher told TES Online three weeks ago. "Some are on the verge of bankruptcy."

At the heart of the problem is a massive fall in orders from schools which has been put down, in part, to the delay in the implementation of the Government's Curriculum Online web portal. This is intended as a shop window for approved classroom digital materials and software. They can pay for these with the pound;50 millions pounds of e-Learning credits, but most schools have been either unaware of them or confused as to how they work, with the result that orders have dried up in a market that needs regular sales.

The relief was palpable when the Department for Education and Skills changed its policy and made the credits available for schools to use right now without having to wait for the Curriculum Online shop window (that may not be ready until the new year).

It was a wise decision by the DfES, but there is no guarantee that it will save some of the hard-pressed software developers who are needed to provide the innovation required to make Curriculum Online the vibrant online community the strategy promises. And there is still considerable fear and anger surrounding the BBC's Digital Curriculum proposals to provide pound;150 million worth of free digital materials for schools over five years. The anticipation of free materials has already had a serious effect on sales, and a decision on this project is expected any day from the Culture Department.

While there is no denying the political will that has seen this Govern-ment make historic investments in schools ICT, great sensitivity must be shown if the Government is to avoid hurting the very people it wants to support. The key to this is to listen carefully to what they say, and not just act when it is clear that a disaster is in the offing. The intransigence exemplified by Dome-ism - politicians' inability to act on well-meant criticism to avoid financial disaster - has no place in education. The NOF ICT training scheme (page 12) is living proof.

Merlin John, editor

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