System failure

1st November 2002 at 00:00
It's about this time of year when autumn colours are fading into the pre-Christmas tinsel, that you hear people asking where the year has gone.

I can account for the disappearance of a large chunk of my year. Our computer network is so slow that we've lost hours waiting for something to happen. It's like watching a Mini Metro pulling a caravan filled with bricks uphill.

Of course it might not be the fault of the network. It could be the software, some of which is clearly designed with the sole purpose of being difficult to use. It's all smiles and supportive noises on the outside of the box, but once the bubble-wrap is off it's no more Mr Nice Guy.

As the ICT co-ordinator in our primary school, I get asked to explain why the system is so slow and when it's going to be speeded up. I'm certainly no techie, but I feel that I have to tell my colleagues something, so I've made up my own theory of time and technology.

First, I tell them it's a universal truth that all ICT projects have to be delayed. So even if you have a date set for the installation of your new upgraded PCs, it won't happen on time. The day before, you'll be told by an Australian temp that the only guy who can help you has just changed jobs or has been called away to something more important.

The second great law is that all upgrades leave your system going slower than before. Even when the processor and memory are boosted to sci-fi proportions, it will still crawl along like a tortoise with blisters. I suppose if it didn't, who would buy new computers?

But there could be help on the horizon. We've had a meeting of ICT co-ordinators in our action zone to discuss a new government-backed project to provide digital resources, due to open next year (instead of this year as was planned).

It's going to be called the Curriculum Pipeline and we'll be given budgets to buy approved software, which will be given kite marks by a panel of kite experts. As I understand, it will work something like the old gas meters, where we put in "learning credits" and software will come down the digital pipe (or in the post if it doesn't fit down the pipe).

According to the promotional puff, the service will be "consistent, coherent and comprehensive" - and we're all hoping that at least the first two aims might be possible. Because we've all got software stuffed in the back of the cupboard that we never really used because it wasn't compatible or comprehensible or it was part of some initiative that fizzled out after the first press release.

All too often we've been fed the hype about a digital superhighway, when we would have been more than happy with a digital bus lane, which at least took a few people where they wanted to go.

Susan Chard, the resident cynic, remains resolutely unimpressed. And she still keeps a leaflet from the Microscopic Foundation promising a scheme so generous that every child in the country could have a laptop. All pupils had to do was get the money off their parents and buy one.

And I've lost track of the promises from the Department for Announcements about laptops for teachers. By now we should have more laptops than Dixons's shop window, but the only member of staff to have been plugged in so far is Mrs Gatsby, the head, whose son is finding it very useful for his GCSEs.

So let's hope that the digital pipeline starts pumping out materials that will be useful, simple and thorough. And let's hope it really helps teachers deliver the curriculum (even though I've always thought that sounds like delivering pizza, with teachers racing around on uninsured scooters).

What am I going to be ordering when the Curriculum Pipeline opens next year? Well I'd love to tell you, but I'm afraid I'll have to delay that until next time

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