Realising the potential

5th January 2001 at 00:00
By the end of 2002 every school will have connections to the Net. Every library will have access through the New Library Initiative. The National Learning Network in further education will be finished. Training through the New Opportunities Fund for teachers and librarians will be completed. All new teachers should have a level of information technology literacy.

Learn Direct, the University for Industry, is already up and running. This is a major achievement and one that seemed unrealistic. The rapid developments in technology and the profound changes we are seeing in the economy and society mean that this is not the end of the story.

So, what are the challenges to the National Grid for Learning (NGFL) in the next five years? For me, they start in the classroom. My greatest concern is that we end up running after simplistic metrics, such as PC-to-pupil ratios. Some of the most innovative teaching I have seen has been using electronic whiteboards. These have enabled traditional teachers to more confidently use technology to support learning.

The arrival of e-books, digital television and many other devices, offer tools that can be exploited in the learning environment. In turn, the developments in wireless technology will have important potential for campuses. For me, the next great challenge is the move from increased capacity ISDN lines, to broadband, as this creates the next level of flexibility.

The regional broadband consortia is a good start, but the next goal is to enable greater co-operation between schools to share expertise. We already have many good examples of language learning between schools. The development of broadband will offer the potential to change this from a few leading schools, to being commonplace across the sector. It will also allow flexibility in "joining up" schools, libraries and other facilities to create communit learning networks. The potential for everyone to access lifelong learning opportunities will then become a reality.

Broadband technology also opens up the area of digital learning materials. The ability to build learning environments that provide access to resources from museums, galleries and library, along with commercial products, is still in its infancy. I hope we will see a shift of resources, from hardware, to content and services. The ability to personalise content will enable teachers to be more creative in engaging children in learning.

Everything mentioned so far is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to say that the NGFL has achieved its potential. All of this cannot happen without debate about the future of the teaching profession. The great mantra: that teaching must become a research-led profession, is central to building a world-class education system. This could be the greatest time to be - or become - a teacher. ICT is not a threat to teaching, but the greatest tool in our history, when in the hands of a confident professional.

I would like to see the General Teaching Council become the General Learning Council and to broaden its membership to education professionals, such as libraries. The more teachers in contact with other professions, the greater our chance of creating a society where "those who can, teach". Investing in and valuing teachers as lifelong learners is the greatest challenge.

Is it too far to aim in five years? My answer is to look at how far we have come already. These goals are not beyond us. I'd like to congratulate those in the classroom; the LEAs; the Department for Education and Employment who have made so much happen in so short a time. Well done and seize the day.

Chris Yapp is an ICL fellow specialising in lifelong learning and the knowledge society


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