Sean Coughlan reports on a project where schools adopt a landmark and share their research. In between wrangling over mad cows and monetary union, European heads of government attending the recent summit in Florence were able to take a look at a rare sight - not only a scene of untroubled European co-operation, but one in which Britain was playing a leading part.
Across the European Union, 700 schools have been taking part for the past three years in a project in which young people "adopt" local monuments or landmarks and study their cultural and historical significance. As well as collecting information, the 160,000 participating students have been learning about how to present their research in multimedia displays - and in a hall adjoining the conference, a school from Kent was invited to present a workshop showing their European counterparts how to put their project work on to the Internet.
Canterbury High School, a grant-maintained school which already has its own Internet site, was invited to demonstrate the future of educational technology by the Brussels-based organisers of the "Schools Adopt Monuments" project, the Pegasus Foundation, a European Parliament organisation that promotes an awareness of a shared European identity among young people.
But despite pride of place being given to a British school using British equipment (provided by Research Machines), Prime Minister John Major disappointed the Canterbury contingent by failing to come across to see their presentation. Deputy headteacher David Platts said that although his pupils were making a great impression on the delegates, and John Major was staying only a couple of hundred yards from where the school was making its presentation, they were told that the Prime Minister was too busy to pay a visit.
None the less, the French Foreign Minister, the Luxembourg Prime Minister and the Italian Deputy Prime Minister were among the politicians who visited the Canterbury High School display. And in the course of a video-conferencing link between the students in Florence and a classroom in Canterbury, the President of the European Parliament, Klaus Hansch, was able to hear a piece of music composed as part of their adopt-a-monument project work.
The choice of Canterbury High School as a model of good practice reflects how far and how quickly many British schools are moving in the use of information technology. If you look up the school's Internet pages, you'll find a mini-prospectus with details of courses, curriculum information and resources on offer. And there are pages of project work from the Schools Adopt Monuments scheme, with photographs and text exploring the history of the Martyrs' Field monument in Canterbury, erected in memory of those burned to death near the site in the 16th-century counter-Reformation.
At present there are four computers connected to the Internet at the school, which headteacher Keith Hargrave says are in constant demand, with sixth-formers particularly using it for research. To give more students access, the school has plans for a second high-capacity ISDN phone line to allow 50 terminals to be linked to the Internet. The cost - about Pounds 6,000 - will be met by sponsorship.
Within the school, information technology is being integrated into everyday classroom life. Each pupil has an individual area on the school's computer network, and in the science department, children are encouraged to submit homework by e-mail. Instead of using red ink to make corrections and comments, teachers use italics, before e-mailing work back to students.
The use of information technology through the school has a strong motivational effect on pupils across the ability range, believes Keith Hargrave. As well as encouraging pupils within school, he also hopes that experience with word-processing, video-conferencing and e-mail will be good preparation for life afterwards, whether in work or higher education.
The kind of electronic education being pioneered in Canterbury is outstripping many other European countries and in an attempt to share the benefits of Canterbury High School's experience and to further the aims of the Pegasus Foundation's project, there are plans for Canterbury to play host to a training event for 90 teachers from across Europe, to be held in the autumn term.
Information on the Pegasus Foundation and the Schools Adopt Monuments scheme is available from Christine Hazard, Parlement Europeen, REM 112, Rue Belliard 97113-1047 Bruxelles, Belgium. The Canterbury High School Internet site is at http:giraffe.rmplc.co.ukeduwebsitescanthighschindex.html.