12th May 2000 at 01:00
With an ever- increasing number of computers in class, schools appear to be keeping pace with technology. However, Jacquie Disney believes there are still questions to be asked

Just how quickly new and revolutionary technology becomes part of the furniture is sometimes staggering. And successful communications technology gets taken up quicker than most as we love anything which can improve our ability to interact with each other. Can you imagine life without a mobile phone or email, not to mention the telephone? Information communications technology (ICT)pervades every level of our society and is accessible to everyone in some form or other.

Take a look at the following trends which reveal just how deeply the ICT revolution has already penetrated the world in which we live:

* 90 per cent of new jobs now require computing skills;

* 50 per cent of families have a home computer;

* growing numbers of people are starting to shop and bank via the Internet and digital television;

* we are starting to see prime-time advertisements for email delivered by digital television;

* more children possess mobile phones;

* many of these mobile phones will soon include email and Internet access.

According to new research carried out by the Parents Information Network (PIN), large numbers of parents are seeking support from schools about the use of technology. The study revealed that 60 per cent of schools surveyed confirmed that they have significant numbers of parents asking teachers questions about ICT. In contrast to this huge demand for ICT information, the level of support for parents initiated by schools on this subject is, not surprisingly, much lower at 24 per cent.

The sheer pace of technological developments, a government agenda to ensure economic and global competitiveness, together with pressure from parents concerned about their children's success within this new digital marketplace will draw more schools into providing information about ICTfor parents. However, our research findings cast a worrying shadow over the extent to which we might expect to see schools fully engaged in the communications revolution. As a relatively new requirement, schools are now grappling with the development of a home-school agreement. A key objective of this scheme is to encourage greater parental involvement, explaining clearly how parents can make a difference to their child's achievements. As such, it needs to address all the important issues which concern teachers, parents and tudents. It needs to reflect the realities of life both in and beyond the school environment. However, while our research demonstrates the growing significance of ICT to parents, only 10 per cent of schools reported that they actually incorporated any reference to the subject in their home-school agreement.

With communications technology fever gripping the nation as a whole at every level, it's difficult to imagine that ICT does not have a place within the content of such an agreement. It is so much a part of a child's world both in and out of the classroom that its impact will increasingly influence the relationship between these two environments. This being the case, it's time to seriously consider the impact of ICT on issues such as educational standards, homework, information exchange and, most significantly, equality of opportunity. With this in mind the following need to be addressed:

* how does the technology influence or feature in your school's drive to raise achievement levels?

* can and should the school help parents to play a supportive role in the often unfamiliar area of ICT?

* how is homework affected by access to the technology?

* is there a need for parental guidance to encourage critical use and discourage plagiarism?

* how will ICT influence the way work is assessed?

* are certain children advantaged?

If parents are communicating with their banks and supermarkets online, it will not be long before they expect to do the same with their child's school. But is your school ready to deal with this demand? What is its policy on equality of access? Do you have a view of how your school might support disadvantaged families in terms of changes created by technology within their community?

The only real certainty about everything technological is that it will increasingly saturate most aspects of life as it becomes ever more portable and affordable. We need to know how schools will respond to these radical and fundamental changes in society at large.

* PIN's research findings can be found at Jacquie Disney worked as a teacher and ICT advisory teacher. She is the director of PIN (Parents Information Network) (see also the Learnfree website Email her at Case-studies are published on the PIN website, demonstrating what some schools are doing, exploring the extent to which closer home-school partnerships in ICT can make a difference to raising achievement.

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