Teachers 'a weak link'
Teachers are the weakest link and pupils will be saying goodbye to those who cannot use technology well in their classes.
That was one of the messages students from 28 nations gave to delegates to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at a roundtable forum in Aix-en-Provence last month.
The event was a rare example of the opinions of students - the users of information and communications technology (ICT) in schools - being sought to inform OECD research.
The 28 students, aged between 17 and 20, had finished or were close to completing high school, and came from OECD nations as disparate as Turkey, Korea, Luxembourg and New Zealand.
They conveyed a sense of frustration that some teachers do not know how to help students make the best use of resources, such as the Internet in classes, or worse still do not even try to understand or use technology. "If teachers just use the Internet in an improvised way it can be very frustrating for students," commented one.
While acknowledging the other pressures on teachers and the limitations caused by lack of equipment and problems with its operation, the students delivered a wake-up call to governments that teachers need more help to achieve better returns from the substantial investments in ICT.
As more students use computers at home to complete assignments, they will become less satisfied with lack of access to the same technology at school.
The student representatives were acutely aware of the advantage for those who have a home PC, and believed more must be done to provide access to those without one, considering the growing need - and advantages of - word processing assignments and using the Net for research.
Very few schools make their computr facilities available to pupils in breaks or after hours, a situation most students said has to change as one way to help address the "digital divide".
The value of the Internet was confirmed, with Swiss student Luca Willig describing it as "revolutionary". However, its limitations were also highlighted, such as the difficulty of determining the accuracy of information found on websites. The students indicated that books and libraries were still vital for learning.
However, they were less enthusiastic about CD-Roms, which the researchers asked about separately from the Net. Reference materials such as encyclopedias were widely used but, in general, the disks lacked depth and were too expensive for many to buy regularly.
The dominance of Microsoft operating systems and software was an issue that participants regularly returned to, with solutions offered including more use of Linux or Unix and programmes such as the StarOffice suite. Some government delegates echoed the concerns about Microsoft, and the Swiss representative told the seminar that schools in his supposedly rich country found Bill Gates' software too expensive.
Pierre Duguet, co-ordinator of the roundtable - part of the OECD's ICT and the Quality of Learning programme launched in May 1999 - said he was very impressed by the students' responses both in Aix and to a series of questions they had been asked to answer during 2000.
He was surprised by the degree of consensus expressed by the participants about the effectiveness of technology for learning, and added that the students made many points that would not otherwise have been brought up.
The outcomes of the roundtable will influence the project's final report, due in December. A report on the Aix session by rapporteur Donald Hirsch can be read on the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation website.