No cash to back free e-mail offer

16th January 1998 at 00:00
All Scottish pupils and teachers will be given a lifetime e-mail address, it was announced at the launch of NetYear, the latest stage of the Government's drive to put all UK schools on the information superhighway.

But East Ayrshire warns that it will take almost #163;2 million over three years to equip its schools with up-to-date hardware and software and Glasgow has cautioned that schools will start from "a very low technological base".

The free e-mail programme is being provided by Excite UK, an independent company that will ensure addresses meet future improvements to equipment and changes of technology. The company will also advise schools how to get the most out of the Internet.

The service will allow children and teachers to contact anywhere in the world from their home, the local library or school.

Nigel Paine, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Educationa l Technology, which hosted the Scottish launch, said full details had still to be worked out. "This is not going to happen overnight and kids will still have to register," Mr Paine stressed.

Ministers described NetYear as part of the biggest public-private partnership in any education system, and Mr Paine said: "It is not possible for the public sector to do it all on its own."

Mr Paine is a member of the UK NetYear committee and hopes Scotland will receive a fair share of the projected #163;50 million injection of private capital. A figure of #163;5 million has been mooted.

The Scottish Office admitted last October that no additional money would be spent north of the border despite the Prime Minister's promise of an extra #163;100 million for schools. Officials said Scottish councils had already been given an extra #163;115.7 million over five years for capital spending and information technology. It was up to them how they spent it.

Meanwhile, East Ayrshire has calculated that 70 per cent of hardware in primaries and 60 per cent in secondaries is out of date. A specialist room in a secondary would cost around #163;25, 000 to equip.

In its response to the Government consultation paper on the national grid for learning, Glasgow warns: "The legacy of two decades of reduced funding and increased calumny means that most schools will be starting from a very low technological base and with very limited confidence in their own judgements about how to develop these infrastructures. "

The city has already estimated it will take #163;24.5 million over six years to put schools at the forefront of developments.

Glasgow accepts convincing teachers to join the information revolution will present significant difficulties. "The challenge which faces the education service in marrying the best of teachers' traditional wish for subject mastery with the 'just enough' paradigm which may be appropriate for much ICT [information and communications technology] activity cannot be underestimated," it advises.

Glasgow also cautions that teachers may be wary of "another assault on their workload". Recent research has shown only one in five is a confident user of computers.

It further warns against over-estimating the extent of Internet use in schools. "This is a single dial-up connection of doubtful reliability and used by only a small proportion of teachers and learners in the great majority of cases. The steps implicit in widespread [networked] access to Internet and similar services through the sort of ISDN baseline service foreseen by the Oftel Task Force will be disruptive to schools and will take time to install and learn to use," it says.

Glasgow points out national grid planners will have to eliminate the "horrendous delays in network traffic" which currently plague the system if teachers are to use the new technologies in class.

Its advisers also say that the idea of paper-less communications, although plausible, "seems to fly in the face of the recent history of ICT as a prodigious producer of paper".

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