9th February 2001 at 00:00
Electronic media has revolutionised the way children learn at home. Jacquie Disney examines the world beyond the national curriculum.

So for pound;64,000 - what is the commonly used description of electronic resources that allows you to do more than passively read information? Is it: a) email? b) Internet? c) interactive? or d) multimedia?

I am intrigued by the tensions of getting to the pound;32,000 question and beyond on the popular Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game show. Like those in the hot seat, I sometimes marvel at my ability to answer a number of questions that I didn't know I knew.

Historical value It is quite evident that I paid virtually no attention during my history lessons, as I struggle when it comes to those kings and queens questions. In fact, I remember all those dates getting me down. I was somehow never helped to see all the intrigue and relevance of history. However, when it comes to the geography questions, I always do quite well - I'd be a good phone-a-friend for geography.

The interesting thing is, where does this knowledge come from? Is it thanks to my rather pedantic and scary geography teacher, or is it due to my love of travelling and interest in international affairs? My final answer is, probably, both, but I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of it is based on experiences and interests developed outside the classroom.

Outsider information At a recent conference about the development of digital learning content, we were reminded that over 80 per cent of learning happens outside the classroom. This certainly feels as though it must be right, particularly when it comes to dealing with the matters of everyday life. There are some skills I draw upon that were taught to me, like working out 17.5 per cent VAT or how to punctuate. However, I understood the principles of levers when I had to move a large boulder into position for my new rockery and started to explore what I actually understood by democracy during the latest US presidential election.

Higher standards Education practice and policy inevitably have an implicit didactic quality if raising standards is a high priority. We have a national curriculum and also a vehicle that ca bring this curriculum into every classroom and every home. A mass of digital learning materials is being developed to ensure that every element of the curriculum can be delivered via the Internet. Children will be able to use technology to access world-class learning materials, no matter where they are.

Yes, I say. Hurray, I say. But hold on a minute. We are starting formally to recognise that people have different learning styles and that process is as important as outcome. It's even becoming acceptable to suggest that learning can be enjoyable. But what about the value of learning different and more diverse things outside school? What scope is there for cultural, local, religious and other personal differences?

Technology provides a new avenue of interest for many children although possibly not in the conventional ways we might imagine. The way children have taken hold of texting via mobile phones is a prime example. We are concerned by falling levels of literacy and communication skills, yet this young generation has redefined the value and functionality of text messaging - something the generation who developed the technology completely dismissed.

Co-operative support The home environment can give children the space to have some quality time to do things in their own way and become interested in things significant or pertinent to them. My interest in geography certainly did not stem from my classroom experiences, but it did allow me to connect with what was covered in lessons. Having the time and the support to develop interests has to be one of the main reasons why a co-operative relationship with the home and the community is so important. Once children's attention is grabbed, by whatever means, they start to become learners. Let's not fall into the trap of the home being a second delivery platform for the national curriculum. Children need to cover it at school but do they need to live it?

Jacquie Disney has an ICT background as both teacher and teacher trainer. She is the director of PIN (Parents Information Network), an independent service for parents who want to help their children learn using computers and the Internet.Email:

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