Mind the technology gap

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Is there already a mismatch between the ICT that pupils are taught and what they need, asks Martin Ripley?

Consider the following facts: 54 per cent of 15-year-old girls report that they know how to use software (by themselves or with help) to detect and get rid of computer viruses. The equivalent statistic for boys is 79 per cent (1); 53 per cent of email, IM (instant messaging) and chat users think that talking to people on the internet is less satisfying than talking to them in real life (2); 63 per cent of 12 to 19-year-old home internet users have taken some action to hide their online activities from their parents (3).

These facts fascinate me. They start me thinking about ICT and about what schools should be teaching. They raise questions about what ICT is, what role technology should play in education, as well as about the human side of teaching and learning.

ICT is a little like sex education in schools. We want students to be aware of the ways in which technology operates - but without great anatomical or biological detail. We want schools to ensure that teaching responds to new technological developments. They should raise students' awareness of social, ethical and environmental consequences of new technologies.

ICT is also a little like teaching swimming. Like swimming, we want students to learn to use a range of technologies in their schools, to be confident around technology - able to use it and to respond to the newest fad or new device.

The consequences of ICT for schooling go well beyond questions of what's in the national curriculum. Instead we need to consider what educational outcomes we might be looking for.

Imagine a child born in 2000. What might we want that person to be able to do by the age of 25, in 2025? What experiences of technology would we want that 25-year-old to have had during primary and secondary schooling? (Let's ignore for now the fact that this baby of 2000 is already in Year 1, with most of hisher ICT curriculum experiences for key stages 1-2 set in stone.) I find it helpful to think about the sorts of activities - work, leisure and recreational - that 25-year-olds might be engaged in by 2025.

Let's consider two people - Hakan and Sam.

Imagine, as 11-year-olds, Hakan and Sam collaborated to collect money for a local charity. They researched, filmed and produced a four-minute film setting out the purpose and activities of their charity. They presented that film to school friends and parents. They created a website to host their film and to collect donations to their charity. They worked with a local designer to produce hard copy leaflets and fliers to support their fund-raising campaign.

As 14-year-olds, Sam and Hakan worked with their local high street bank to complete a research project on the UK's (by 2025) spiralling trade deficit with China. Their project was displayed in the foyer of the bank.

On leaving school, Hakan and Sam created a website designed to keep classmates in touch with each other. In the six years since leaving school, this network has been highly active; 85 per cent of classmates are regularly in contact. The e-network is fundamental to those students'

lives. By 2025, 33 per cent of Hakan and Sam's classmates will have found employment through this network.

At the age of 25, Sam is in medical school. Technology is fundamental to health care. By 2025 the national patient health records have become the backbone of primary health care. Sam is learning to use an international e-diagnosis tool, bringing the world's best specialists to the bedside of patients. Technology has become the key tool in preventative medicine.

Like 45 per cent of his classmates, Hakan does not have full-time employment. He never expected to. Instead, he works mostly from home. He works as a designer using technology. Technology is his lifeline. He has contracts with offices in three different continents. He speaks to colleagues every day, using the latest virtual office tools. He finds new work using virtual networks and communities.

What implications do these scenarios carry for the teachers involved in educating Sam and Hakan, preparing them for their adult lives through the middle part of 21st-century?

Six years ago, when I was visiting primary schools as a parent, one headteacher told me that ICT was generally the parents' responsibility. She saw technology as an increasingly important element in the fabric of life, but not something that should unduly trouble a school.

That has changed. It is no longer contentious to say that ICT must become one of the cornerstones of the 21st century school. Students need ICT experiences that prepare them by: * Providing a solid, user's skills-set;

* Giving students experience of using a range of ICT tools, including mobile technology, web-designing;

* Equipping students to understand, use and develop whatever becomes the newest technology;

* Helping students understand how they can control technology, using it as a tool to do things that would otherwise not be possible;

* Be productive and ethical in a technological world.

The difficulty for us in responding to technology is that most of us don't understand it. We might know vaguely what a blog is, but don't know how to create one and are just a little bit frightened of trying to find out. Most of us have not created a website. Few of us belong to e-networks other than Friends Reunited.

A more radical thought to end with. We could ask some 18-year-olds to design a school ICT curriculum. I wonder what priority, if any, they would place on e-content and learning management systems.

l (1) "Are students ready for a technology-rich world?" What PISA (2003) studies tell us, OECD, January 2006; (2) and (3)"UK Children Go Online".

Final report of Key Project Findings. Sonia Livingstone and Magdalena Bober. LSE 2005.

Martin Ripley is an e-assessment adviser. Email: martin.ripley1@btinternet.com

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