US software bias attacked

14th June 1996 at 01:00
A fresh controversy has broken out over computer use in schools, with a warning from the Government's top curriculum adviser that American software threatens to destroy Britain's cultural heritage.

Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, has called for a new "kitemark" to indicate on software for schools whether it reflects British culture. He told a conference of technology teachers this week that children face a rising tide of American words and spellings.

Dr Tate also called into question "grandiose claims" made for new technology and appealed for books to be put back at the centre of learning. He said the children's book market had not grown for the past seven years, and 70 per cent of all books bought by parents were for children aged eight and under.

"Unless we consciously promote the book as being at the centre of the school curriculum alongside the new media, we run the risk that future generations may cease to read," he said.

But Francis Howlett, programme manager at the National Council for Educational Technology, said there was no evidence of schools being swamped by American software and said different spellings could be used as an educational opportunity.

Dr Tate told a conference organised by the City Technology Colleges Trust that the educational software market was dominated by American-produced materials which "fail to recognise this country's cultural distinctiveness.

"It would be quite wrong for young people to spend large amounts of their time working with software which relies on American spelling, expressions and cultural references and which uses voices with American accents," he said.

"The school curriculum is a major vehicle for transmitting our distinctive cultural traditions from one generation to the next. It must not be prevented from doing this by being forced to rely on materials which originate elsewhere and have not been developed with our particular needs in mind."

He later said one way of stopping the American influence would be through using a Government agency to check software to ensure it was of high quality. This would include making sure it reflected British culture. "Given that we are bombarded with images from the United States on television, video and so on, I think it is very important that what children do in schools is related to their own traditions," he said.

"The main consideration would be to make sure computer packages were of high quality, but it could also ensure that the software was culturally specific. "

But Mr Howlett, who is supervising an evaluation of American and British-produced computer learning systems in 22 schools, said: "Americanisms do annoy teachers and some of the children, but they get used to it.

"I don't think there is any evidence that we are being swamped by American culture. Differences in spellings and accents can be used as an educational opportunity rather than a problem."

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