Quiet is the new loud

7th September 2001 at 01:00
I bet you haven't noticed the radical changes in education over the last 12 months. There's been a quiet revolution, and what's more it's been a structured one, with a government plan behind it. Tens of thousands of teachers in thousands of schools have begun to change the way they teach. Even kids have started getting more enthusiastic about lessons. Both teachers and students have been successfully NOF-ed (the national ICT training scheme funded by the New Opportunities Fund). And the good thing is that it has been a pluralist and internal solution. The biggest NOF provider has not always known best, nor offered the best "solution", but the best NOF-ing has gone on in the school community itself.

There's never been an in-service training programme on this scale anywhere. Some of it may have gone awry, but there is not a teacher in the land unaware that the challenge of ICT is here to stay. I write from the certain knowledge of having reviewed thousands of lesson evaluations. Those who enrolled to be NOF-ed with the Science Consortium (made up of Sheffield Hallam University, the Association for Science, the Nuffield Foundation and New Media, www.scienceconsortium.co.uk) did not choose the easiest course for themselves, and for some schools it was "inconvenient" having the science department working with a different training provider. But we've now got the evidence to show that things in science are changing. By the spring of 2002, we'll have 20,000 or more lesson evaluations to prove it.

Technology that gets adopted quickest gives people obvious benefits. Yet if teachers are to be enthusiastic about integrating ICT in the classroom, they've got to work on it as they go, see some real benefits and feel involved and in control.

The Science Consortium's solution has been to start by getting every teacher to give one successful lesson using a set of tried and tested materials - software, lesson plans and activity sheets. Then they report on it to an online tutor, and consider the tutor's response before teaching another lesson. By lesson three or four, many are discarding bits of our material and putting in their own. By lesson six, many are in the driving seat.

When is it best to use and not use ICT? If you want to change an organisation and want to make your changes stick, the best way is to make sure the changes are structured and from within. Tears will flow and money will be wasted if you go for a grand fix at a single stroke, get in some outside expert, devise a plan, and then impose it. Recent "dot.com" failures have proved that it happens even with new technology. So forget the hype of the information super-highway, the National Grid fo Learning and the government initiative, Curriculum Online. They are not going to change what goes on in the classroom.

Show teachers the benefits of integrating ICT into their lessons, give them good software and support as they battle through the obstacles, and they'll change their own world. But they need to feel empowered. In a recent survey, 6 per cent of secondary school students reckoned science was their favourite subject, 57 per cent media studies. So here's a challenge for Science Year. Let's reverse the situation, not by handing education to broadcasters, which is likely to happen with the Government's Curriculum Online proposals, but by empowering teachers, delegating ring-fenced software budgets to schools, and providing them all with encouragement and support. There's not been enough empowering lately. Trust a teacher.

Dick Fletcher is managing director of New Media, part of the Science Consortium

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