UK acclaimed as 'at the forefront' in ICT - and Becta gets the credit

3rd September 2010 at 01:00
Norwegian expert pays tribute to axed quango and warns of impact of cost-cutting on education technology

The UK is years ahead of any major European country in using technology in schools, and Becta - the quango axed by ministers - was essential in getting it there, according to an international industry expert.

Roger Larsen, who devised computer "learning platforms" used by schools in five continents, is warning that the country needs to preserve the expertise and knowledge of the scrapped technology agency to maintain its leading position.

"Thanks to Becta the UK is in the forefront, and a key driver in getting to this leading position was to have a strategy that everyone had to adhere to," he told The TES this week.

"You have to make sure you don't lose the tight grip that Becta had on minimum standards ... otherwise you will have investment in technology and you will not take all the advantage out of it."

One of the coalition Government's first acts after it took power in May was to abolish Becta, but Mr Larsen views the agency as a key reason for England's leading position in education technology. Only small Nordic countries are more advanced than the UK, the Norwegian said.

Becta was an organisation that had "the vision to go out and actually make it happen and have the industry work together and talk together and collaborate with schools and local authorities," he said.

The axing of Becta was followed by a further government decision to raid the "harnessing technology" fund of #163;100 million, in part to finance the controversial free schools policy.

The Government will struggle to have the same influence in future on the use of technology in schools, Mr Larsen warned.

"I would say the UK is far ahead. You have to go quite far back to the next - that is probably France which is pushing the button now on things that the UK did five years ago."

Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, said: "The last government and Becta took ICT very seriously and drove it a long way forward.

"We can't pretend, though, that ICT is fully embedded in schools yet in the way it is taught and used. There is a long, long way to go. I am not sure that this government is as fully committed to ICT as the last one and I think it should be."

Mr Larsen's Fronter learning platforms - which allow work to be completed, assessed and monitored online - are used by 4,500 schools in England and millions of pupils and teachers worldwide.

Despite the advances made so far, Mr Larsen estimates that only a third of schools with learning platforms are taking full advantage of the technology. But he said technology is sparking the first major change in how schools are run since the 19th century.

Mr Larsen claims the platforms are expanding schools beyond their physical confines and the Victorian model of education. "I wish I were a teacher in the UK now, it is very exciting," he said. "We are right in the middle of a revolution."

SAVINGS - Bye-bye Becta

The coalition Government announced it was abolishing Becta, the schools technology agency, in May. Ministers said the move would save #163;10 million this year, and #163;65 million in the future. At the time Becta chief executive Stephen Crowne argued the quango saved schools and colleges many times more than its running costs.

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