The focus on the technology of computers in schools and colleges needs to shift to what the information superhighway can actually do if it is to become an education superhighway, according to a new briefing paper.
The authors of the National Commission on Education paper say: "The literate and effective citizen of the future will need new skills. As the computer becomes the equivalent of pencil and paper and the information superhighway becomes the equivalent of the Royal Mail, then all students must be able to link together related pieces of information - text, sound, pictures and video - in order to communicate to others."
Technology has tended to drive change by starting as something used by individuals, eventually being turned into a network. The third stage - yet to be reached by most schools and colleges - comes when the organisation uses information technology to change the way it does things internally, then externally. "The fifth stage consists of redefining the business itself. "
The role of the teacher will change because students can be more independent in their learning with much progress monitored by the computer. "To be an effective manager and counsellor, the teacher will have to know the needs of individual students well. Teachers will also need to focus on the many people- oriented activities of the classroom that will never be replaced by technology. "
Styles and methods will become more diverse, and homes may become outposts of schools or colleges. It concludes that largely because of technology, "constant change will be a continuing feature of our lives. Schools and colleges will need to prepare learners to work confidently with the new technologies. More importantly, they must prepare learners for a working environment characterised by changing skills requirements and changing work patterns.
"By harnessing the power of IT, schools and colleges can become better, more attractive places to work in - both for students and for teachers."
Information Technology and Learning: Problem or Solution, written by the National Council for Educational Technology, says during the past decade developments have been hampered by constraints, some of which - including the lack of high-quality equipment and software, low priorityand the lack of good curriculum examples - are being overcome. Others are not: there is low awareness of the real benefits IT brings to teaching and learning, practical examples of implementation are not widely disseminated, and senior managers rarely plan its use strategically.
This means that the emphasis should be moved away from the technology and towards the solutions it provides. Good ideas about implementation need to be publicised, while each institution needs to establish its own planning framework and strategic approach to using technology. There are examples of IT usage enhancing every subject area of the curriculum.