Schools fear digital age will pass them by

18th August 2000 at 01:00
PRIMARY and secondary staff are keen to integrate information and communication technology into their teaching but are struggling to find the time to update their skills and knowledge, an interim survey of progress has found.

While ministers have promised a computer revolution by injecting pound;88 million over three years, many staff still say modern machines are not readily at hand and that technical back-up is missing when things go wrong.

Rae Stark, vice-dean of Strathclyde University, who wrote the report, says:

"The general impression from the questionnaire data was of professionals who recognised the importance and potential of ICT as a tool to enhance many aspects of their professional duties, but who were finding difficulty in securing the equipment conveniently within their workspace, and in finding time to acquire the knowledge, practise the skills and integrate the beneficial outcomes into their already complex routines and crowded timetables."

The report, drawn from information in 85 primaries and 53 secondaries, reveals that ICT co-ordinators are facing significant problems, particularly in secondary where they are unsure how to initiate training in managing school development policies.

Possible advisers in teacher education institutions are often less knowledgeable than themselves.

Nevertheless, Dr Stark concludes, there has been substantial progress. "The secondary schools are forging ahead in setting goals for ICT experiences for pupils at different stages, suggesting that ICT is being seen as a separate subjectto be mastered by ages and stages. Perhaps the preponderance of computing and technology subject teachers among the secondary co-ordinators has been an influence in this."

Primary teachers and pupils are using CD-Roms and CDis to access curricular material, "suggesting the use of ICT as a tool within the curriculum is more securely established".

Teachers in both sectors complain of a lack of technical support and Dr Stark believes that levels of use and attitudes towards new technology may depend on the extent of the back-up available.

The survey found that a majority of classroom teachers have a home computer which they use regularly for word-processing of school work. Only a small number have Internet links.

A third of teachers admit to being disturbed by the superior skills of pupils and anticipate big changes to the teacher-pupil relationship. "For those who see themselves as the primary source for the pupils of subject knowledge, the challenge of change may be very great indeed," Dr Stark says.

Pupils are enthusiastic about computers but are frustrated at the lack of access in school. However, 80 per cent of pupils had access to a computer out of school. They know the value of IT and are determined to pick up the skills. Dr Stark notes: "It is interesting to speculate what it will be necessary to teach in IT courses in the early years of secondary in the future."

The Impact of Information and Communication Technology Initiatives in Scottish Schools is published by Strathclyde University and Northern College.

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