They're fingertippin' good

11th February 2000 at 00:00
With the arrival of the Jornada girls in a Glasgow school have got a whole new world of schoolwork in their hands, reports David Henderson

TEACHERS' traditional cry to "take out your jotters" is fast becoming a vocal relic for 20 fourth-year girls at Notre Dame High in Glasgow, the country's only single-sex state secondary.

Jotters are being replaced by "Jornadas" or palmtop computers, no larger or heavier than a standard textbook. Smaller than a laptop, easily stuffed into schoolbags and complete with e-mail and Internet connections, the Jornada is quietly creating its own revolution as part of the city's drive to become the "benchmark for the rest of the world" in information and computer technology.

Councillors last week agreed to proceed with a pound;220 million rebuilding programme in their 29 secondaries, including pound;500,000 of ICT support for each school, as the classroom of tomorrow was under pioneering tests in the west end high school.

The pupils take notes in class, write essays at home and keep diaries using their palmtops. Recording lessons is another option as jotters become historical artefacts in most subjects.

Hewlett Packard, a key company in the 3 ED consortium running the Private Public Partnership project, is monitoring its Jornada palmtop with the 15-year-olds, selected for their special interest in technological studies and graphic design. High-powered executives are the normal Jornada market.

Like her classmates, Laura Kavanagh received her machine last April, initially on a six-week trial, but is now chained to her flexible friend, such are its many uses. Homework can begin on the underground on the way home from school.

"It's a substitute for a jotter, a big pocket PC," she acknowledges. "It certainly makes you more computer literate and more up-to-date with what's going on, and people require that."

She adds: "It makes you learn more and you concentrate on what you're writing. If there's a documentary on TV, you can sit down and take notes, it's so mobile."

The Jornadas accompany the girls from class to class, while Ann Jane Malloy even took hers on holiday last summer. Hafsa Nazir has had to block Internet use byher brothers at home.

Many small computers have limited battery life but the girls maintain they squeeze 10-12 hours out of their machines, which they boost at home. Infra-red connections allow them to point their machine at printers in school to reel off their essays and notes.

Catriona Stewart, assistant principal teacher of technology, says her group is able to download images from the Internet. The Jornadas can also be used to file Standard grade reports and are particularly helpful for folio work. Half the time in class is now spent on the machines.

"They were quite tentative at first but I think they're more adventurous with everything now. They've got more confidence going from class to class and the quality of their work has improved," she explains.

Mary McLaughlin, Notre Dame headteacher, believes the girls save time by avoiding the rewriting and printing that normally happens between homework and class.

"But for me, the biggest gain is their confidence as learners. They're so comfortable with ICT and have had opportunities to teach their teachers, friends and parents. I think there has been a language gain as well. Many children at that age are a bit hestitant about the language they use but they're now more adventurous. If there's a big word, they can spellcheck it. The Jornadas help when their handwriting is not all it should be," she says.

Ian McDonald, depute director of education and architect of the PPP programme, is equally enthusiastic and is keen to extend the pilot to four other classes in the city. At around pound;600 each, machines are not cheap but the principles are clear enough, he says.

Like other city secondaries, Notre Dame will be overhauled from top to bottom in the three-year rebuilding programme. At present, one room has Internet access and is booked all day and swamped when Higher folios have to be submitted. Under the new regime, five new ICT rooms will set the pace, with Intranet and Internet access in each refurbished classroom. "Staff are looking forward to relieving the burden of administration," Mrs McLaughlin explains.

Jornadas for all may yet be a dream but at least some have seen the future.

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