Time to be wary when you think you are ahead

14th March 1997 at 00:00
It's a warming thought that you're a world leader. In educational information technology, there's no doubt that some British schools certainly are. But there are deep-rooted problems, and those with influence in this area cannot afford to rest on their laurels. It's rather like English football fans who think that because England won the World Cup in 1966 they have the best team in the world .

The basic problem has been obvious for some time. Teachers are required to use IT with their students, but they have not been given the necessary training, support and equipment. As a result, about two-thirds of teachers don't use IT. And that situation isn't going to change until steps are taken to help them.

The sad truth is that many of the very people who should be training and helping teachers are as ill-prepared as their charges. And some of the people who are fond of saying teachers should use IT wouldn't dream of using computers themselves. Leadership by example doesn't occur to them (see Nick Mailer, page 40).

Right now it's time for a change, and hopefully the general election will be the catalyst. This Computers Update gives a snapshot of some of what's right, and from this can be drawn some points that an incoming administration would do well to consider. The first thing they could do is write a strategy for IT in education and post it up on the Department for Education and Employment's Web site. Teachers, students and parents would be delighted to find out by what date they could expect their school to be connected for on-line communications, and what sort of connection that would likely to be.

A spokesman for the DFEE said last week that the Government's IT strategy was "set out" in the speech by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, at the BETT educational technology show in January. Maybe he didn't read the speech - most of those who did agreed that it was the most threadbare and disappointing of its kind this decade, and certainly not a strategy. It really does seem as if IT in schools is now resting on a plateau (see George Cole, right).

Any such strategy should focus on teachers and look at the following possibilities: * identify a minimum percentage of the funding that schools should spend on IT; * ensure that all teacher education courses give thorough IT training; * re-examine local support for IT; * initiate schemes to help teachers get computers for home use; * take steps to help all schools get on-line with the best possible connections; * encourage and support all educational organisations to supply as much useful material as possible on Web sites for schools, including practical hands-on advice on how to use IT insubject lessons; * tie this to broadcasting for teachers' staff development (see Margaret Bell, page 4); * help local authorities make public libraries places where the community can discover and use the best communication technologies.

There are plenty of other points, but these are ones which recur consistently. Most important of all, however, is the general attitude of government to IT in education. It's no longer a "white heat" issue - IT should be seenas an everyday tool for teachers and students.That the Government's own inspectors show that it isn't, while other countries are investing heavily in up-to-date networksand equipment, reveals that any notional lead the UK thinks ithas could disappear in a veryshort time.

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