Primary purpose

14th February 2003 at 00:00
George Cole reviews a collection of inspirational essays on the value of ICT in schools

ICT in the Primary School Edited by Avril Loveless and Babs Dore Open University Press pound;16.99 (paperback)

According to the latest Department for Education and Skills statistics, primary schools in England spend an average of pound;15,400 on ICT each year and there is an average of 31 computers per school. A lot of ICT investment has gone into primary schools and no doubt some teachers have been left thinking: "My school has acquired all this computer kit, I know how to switch it on, but why do I need it?" This book has the answers.

Edited by Avril Loveless and Babs Dore, both senior lecturers at the University of Brighton, the book includes contributions from academics and educationists from the UK, Australia Finland and US. Two of the contributors are primary school teachers and another is an ICT advisory teacher, and it is peppered with examples of how ICT is being used in primary classrooms. In other words, it isn't a dry, academic tome, but a very useful overview of the role of ICT in primary schools.

The book can be roughly divided into three parts: why, what and how. The opening chapters present the case for using ICT in primary schools, the middle section looks at how it is being used to stimulate and engage children, and the final section covers professional development.

The opening chapter, by Avril Loveless, answers the questions: "What is ICT good at, and how does it make a distinctive contribution to teaching and learning activities?" Toni Downes, from the University of Western Sydney, looks at homeschoolcommunity links and provides an interesting glimpse into how computers are used in many Australian homes. Whereas many UK children have a PC in their bedroom, in Australia, computers are more likely to be found in a family room. Downes looks at the breadth of ICT activities children do at home (drawing, browsing, typing, playing games and so on) and explains why teachers need to take account of this in the classroom.

Andy Carvin, from the Benton Foundation's Community Policy Program in Washington DC, devotes a chapter to the digital divide. Carvin's writing is sharp and insightful and he makes the point that there is no simple explanation for whether or not people have digital. He says that even if every home had a high-speed internet connection tomorrow, there would still be a digital divide because many people would still lack the skills or the material to make the most of it.

The final chapter, Potential into Practice: developing ICT in the primary classroom, is written by two primary teachers based in the UK, Martin Torjussen and Elizabeth Coppard. The latter provides a rationale for using ICT in art and Torjussen describes how he used ICT to plan, prepare and evaluate art activities. He gives a detailed guide, explaining the reasoning behind each step. There's a lot of interest about the potential of using mobile phones in education and Janne Sariola and others describe the LIVE project in Finland that saw pupils, teachers and student teachers using mobile phones (with email and internet facilities) in a collaborative manner. The study found that by using a combination of voice, text messaging, fax and email, students could collaborate with others in real time, even though they were separated by distance.

Other chapters look at a project in Finland that used mobile phones (with email and internet facilities) for mobile learning; how ideas can be developed with multimedia; the role ICT can play in developing literacy; and how an online professional community can be created.

It would be a shame if the audience of this book were limited to university departments or teacher-training institutions. It deserves a much wider readership and primary heads would do well to acquire a copy, read it and then let their staff share its insightful contents.

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