Stand to attention

7th July 2000 at 01:00
How far down the line is a truly Welsh ICT community? The Wales Education 2000 exhibition will give pointers, reports Merlin John

If you weren't already convinced that information and communications technology (ICT) is starting a revolution in schools, a new report from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers spells it out. Written by Alan Pritchard from the University of Warwick's Centre for New Technologies Research and Education, "Education.com: an introduction to learning, teaching and ICT" warns that the classroom as we know it may be replaced by so-called virtual classrooms in 15 or 20 years.

Reassuringly, however, the author insists that there will still be a central role for teachers. To find out more visit the ATL stand (18) at next week's Wales Education 2000 exhibition. The report costs pound;6.99 and is available free to ATL members.

As schools connect to the National Grid for Learning, education service providers are busy trying to create communities for them online. While this is sensible, there is an unspoken feeling that failure to do so could spell their demise in this new wired world.

At the heart of developments is the Government's learning grid gatekeeper, the British Education and Communications Technology Agency (96). The agency is busy creating content for its virtual teacher centre, and "brands" other websites for approval, but it is likely to come under pressure at Cardiff to provide a Welsh VTC for and by the Welsh.

Broadcasters are key to creating Welsh language communities and BBC Cymru (79) is setting a benchmark at www.bbc.co.ukcymru with a wealth of material. When going to press, S4C was conspicuous by its absence at the exhibition, but commentators expect it to make a valuable contribution to the Welsh learning grid, particularly as it is thought to be the most heavily subsidised service in the world.

Granada LearningBlack Cat (32) and Anglia Multimedia (42) have long been conscious of their Welsh customers, and will be showing off their online service alongside their software products and ICT training for teachers. RM (86) is the dominant educational ICT supplier in the UK, so it's hardly surprising that it has the largest online presence - its websites get a staggering 25 million hits a month.

It even sells a PC equipped with Welsh language curriculum software, called Window Box Cymraeg (review left). "We recognised the need to address the specific requirements of our Welsh customers many years ago," says marketing director Lynne Moates. "The really exciting development is that with Window Box Online we can continually adapt and add new resources to meet the changing needs of the curriculum. As a British company, we are very aware of the different needs of all the different nations within the UK, and as a Welshman in exile, I have a vested interest in keeping my relations happy."

Other contributions to the online community will also be shown by Schoolmater.net (84), the Scottish Council for Educational Technology (85), ntl (32), NES Arnold (80) and our own TES websites and related Learnfree service for parents and home learning (52).

Moves to provide Welsh language materials have been remarkably successful given that no publishers envisage mega-riches from producing software for Wales's 22 LEAs.

Microsoft, which has so far resisted making its Windows operating system available in Welsh, is now supporting moves to offer a Welsh version of its dominant software suite, Office. This is largely thanks to the efforts of the Welsh Language Board (4) and Canolfan Bedwyr at the University of Wales in Bangor. Organisations such as this, and the Welsh curriculum authority, ACCAC (73) and MEU Cymru have been absolutely central to Welsh education by stimulating Welsh-medium publishing, and their online communities (see box below) are doorways to a wealth of indispensable Welsh materials.

While it may be difficult to shift Microsoft, it is much easier to shift its products, as key PC suppliers at Cardiff will testify. RM, Lynx (100) and Viglen (76), vision4schools (64) and NTS (190) will show new PC developments from radio networks to sleek laptops, while Apple (92) will show there is always a more attractive way. Sadly, it faces an uphill struggle despite its impressive iMacs and iBook laptops that come with instant wireless networking and video editing.

An important key to schools ICT is support, and the partners in the current ICT training scheme, the New Opportunities Fund (82) and the Teacher Training Agency (24) will be on hand for information and advice.

On the commercial front, Nelson Thornes (94) will be pushing its extensive ICT scheme of books, CD-Rom and materials for primary teachers, while Capita (74) will help to make sense of assessment data. And remember, big isn't always beautiful - look out for the smaller players like Kudlian Software (110), Brighter Vision (98) and DLK (90). And the innovative but low-tech keyboard player for primary children, Keyboard Crazy, from RLS (62).

A difficult but rewarding area of educational ICT is control technology. Take in Economatics (214), Commotion (148) and Longman Logotron (146), which will be pushing its much-vaunted Control Insight software.

And take a look at a whole-class technology that the politicians are keen for teachers to adopt - electronic whiteboards, the multimedia blackboards of the future. The Interactive Whiteboard Company (40) is making boards simple for teachers with its Class Act software, while RM will show its astonishing Easiteach Maths software that will work on any make of whiteboard.

Websites

ACCAC www.accac.org.uk

S4C www.s4c.co.uk

BBC www.bbc.co.ukcymru

Bwrd yr iaith (Welsh Language Board)

www.bwrdd-yr-iaith.org.uk

MEU Cymru (part of WJC)

www.meucymru.co.uk

Welsh Language Society

www.cymdeithas.comchwilotydd


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