Not all are won over to the Web;Briefing;International;New technology

16th April 1999 at 01:00

Canada is leading the world in the development of "learnware", picking up first, third and fifth place in the 1998 international Online Learning Awards.

The country's 16,000 schools are already connected to the information superhighway, as are its libraries nationwide. Over the past five years $100 million (pound;43m) has been invested in developing educational software through SchoolNet, a federally-directed consortium.

Projects include the WEIR programme (, which allows students from kindergarten to grade 12 from all over the country to work collaboratively via e-mail with Canadian writers and journalists. There is also Grassroots (www.schoolnet.cagrassroots), a programme which turns schools into producers of knowledge by providing $900 each for classes to undertake original research on Canada and post it on the Web.

SchoolNet officials say the WEIR programme - which pays writers and journalists to work with the students - has significantly improved students' writing.

The top Online Learning Award went to a Grassroots project called Students Against Landmines, produced by Ottawa teacher Dalia Naujokaitis. It offers resources for students on anti-personnel landmines and for fundraising for de-mining operations in Mozambique and Afghanistan.

Other imaginative schemes include a Saskatchewan department of education project that uses fibre optics and computers to interest children from age 11 in non-traditional careers.

Children are paired with miners in a local uranium mine and can watch them work through cameras on the miners' hats. They then develop writing skills by communicating with miners and engineers via e-mail.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that widespread use of the Internet is educationally beneficial. Critics say children will be left to sit in front of a screen watching pre-packaged images appear when research shows they learn best by interaction with the physical world around them.

Others say students need to develop their knowledge and understanding under the guidance of a teacher.

Alison Armstrong, a critic of IT in education, said projects such as the Brainium, a multimedia, on-line science curriculum using cartoons, undermine science teaching.

"Nature cannot compete with the cartoon excitement of such programs. Yet in these programs nature is often disembodied and decontextualised, which makes it difficult for children to understand the concreteness of facts."

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