Out-of-date ICT leaves students in the dark

23rd May 2014 at 01:00
Obsolete systems are hampering learning, conference hears

Many headteachers in Scotland cannot browse the web in their own offices and children's thirst for information is being dulled by two-day waits enforced by council ICT policies, a teaching union conference heard last week.

A litany of complaints about ICT in schools was laid out at NASUWT Scotland's annual general meeting, where members unanimously backed a call to campaign for funding to improve technology systems.

"We are vastly behind industry and we are not keeping pace with the wider world," said Dumfries and Galloway teacher Scott Anderson, who moved the motion. Teachers in his area routinely had to switch off classroom lights and close curtains as money was not available to replace fading pound;70 bulbs for projectors and whiteboards, he said.

Overzealous ICT safeguards were in direct contrast to the spontaneous, child-led learning promised by curricular reform, said Aberdeenshire member Nik James.

Primary teachers who wanted to update software could not do it themselves, instead having to call specialist staff and sometimes wait days for help, Mr James said. He added: "[This] means you can't actually use Curriculum for Excellence, where a child goes: `I think we should look at this.' "

If a headteacher wanted to search on Google, Mr James said, they could not do it in their office, but instead had to find a classroom and put the information on a memory stick. He described this as "absolute nonsense".

Fiona Rowland, a primary headteacher from West Lothian, said that the situation was improving in her area, which had a policy that no member of staff should be working on a computer more than five years old.

The council did understand how helpful up-to-date technology could be for teachers, she said, although it was "nowhere near" its aspirations for ICT, with older software such as Windows 7 and Microsoft 2010 still being rolled out.

According to national executive member Linda Gray, teachers were highly sceptical that Glow, the digital network for Scottish schools managed by Education Scotland, would improve the situation.

Meanwhile, Mr Anderson was unconvinced by the increasingly common view that pupils should bring their own mobile phones, tablets and laptops into school, as wi-fi was already slow.

He added that thousands of school computers still operated on Windows XP, even though it was no longer supported by Microsoft, while Office 2010 software was commonly used even though "everyone else is using Office 2013".

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "It is clear that current ICT systems in many schools are not fit for purpose and significant investment is required to ensure that they meet the needs of 21st-century education provision."

A Scottish government spokesman said it was for local authorities to determine ICT budgets, but added: "We are continuously engaged with both local ICT and education departments to help ensure learners and teachers can access the tools they need."

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