Virtual school sprints on to the horizon

18th June 1999 at 01:00
Neil Munro reports on ministers' determination to signal the start of a new era as the drive for excellence goes online

TECHNOLOGY means "you can have any kind of school you want, even with two or three children, and still have your community," Professor Stephen Hepple said in a video link to the conference. "There are now so many more highways, except they are not concrete but fibre-optic and copper."

He warned, however, that the Government's investment in school buildings required serious thought to be given to the kind of school needed in the future. "That is very challenging because we have to ask what do we want rather than what's the best we can do with what we've got?" Professor Hepple appealed for schools to be ambitious in their plans for children's learning as technology greatly enhanced their potential. "A curriculum must be based on children sprinting to the horizon, not ambling and shambling along," he said. "We must persuade the politicians that what matters is not spending the money and expecting to see children doing more of the same but doing much better."

The focus should be on the use of IT as a learning tool not a teaching machine. "We need critically aware and, crucially, creative people not a generation of robots."

The theme was taken up by Carol Walker, head of early and primary education in Argyll and Bute, where geographical necessity has proved the mother of invention, pushing the authority to the fore of advances in distance learning.

The conference organisers set up a live video feed to Tiree High where Catriona MacInnes, principal teacher of Gaelic, was shown linked in turn to three sixth-year pupils whom she taught remotely at Lochgilphead High.

"Technology must become a tool not a shrine," Ms Walker said. Its purpose must be to enhance the curriculum. Schools should have the same materials and the same equipment, with equal access for all pupils and the same training opportunities for staff. Training works best when it takes place in the context of the curriculum.

Ms MacInnes said she taught her Lochgilphead pupils in much the same way as she would have done face to face. "I'd like to meet them personally though," she said.

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