Wanted: more IT specialists

27th June 1997 at 01:00
There is a serious shortage of teachers with a specialised knowledge of educational technology. The only solution is better training and more of it

Up to Pounds 1,500 as an incentive to induce PGCE students to specialise in information technology! The Government is crying out for IT graduates to become teachers, and most of the people on my course at Warwick University graduating this summer have had no difficulty getting job offers, even as early as May. Many schools are now desperate, as can be seen by the number of job advertisements in the education press, but they are probably already too late; there are simply not enough teacher-trained graduates about, and many of them are easily seduced into applying for jobs in industry, where salaries are much higher.

There is a lack of decent IT teaching in many schools throughout the UK. The Office for Standards in Education has said this is due to a "lack of teacher confidence and competence". This is hardly surprising when so many of those teaching IT have little or no experience of the subject. The reason so many non-specialist teachers are having to teach IT is not because headteachers enjoy throwing them in at the deep end but because there are not enough IT specialists to go round and heads have no choice but to meet national curriculum requirements. There are a handful of PGCE courses in the UK offering IT as a specialist subject. Few schools, therefore, can boast that information technology is taught by even one specialist, let alone by a whole department of specialists.

Fairfax School in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands is one of the lucky ones. The subject is taught there by a head of department experienced in IT, together with a business studies and mathematics teacher, who are also both experienced and qualified in IT. Gradually, IT is becoming a higher priority in the school as it spreads across other departments.

As part of my PGCE course, I have been involved with several departments at Fairfax School. Members of the languages department asked for a training session in word processing, and were thrilled at the prospect of producing their own tables, with their own ideas of how to use them in lessons.

Working with four lower-ability pupils in the geography department showed me how motivating IT can be. The pupils were spurred into action to produce some graphs and raced to the colour printer upstairs to collect their output. The smiles on their faces when they took their work back to their teacher made the teaching seem entirely worthwhile.

The geography department is now keen to extend the use of IT to other classes, and the whole school will also soon benefit from the vast resources on the Internet. However, in many schools in the country children are missing out on an opportunity that, in a few years' time, will be a part of their everyday lives.

Warwick University is trying to address the lack of qualified IT teachers by providing training with IT as the main subject - the first students will graduate this summer. The course aims to give its students a thorough understanding of IT learning in schools, so that its graduates will go into schools with the skills and ability to co-ordinate IT in the secondary environment as well as being able to put a whole new perspective on the teaching of the subject.

Students on the course, led by Michelle Selinger, concentrate on how to teach IT as a discrete subject to all levels (key stage 3 GCSE, A-level, GNVQ) as well as on different methods of integrating IT into other curriculum areas. The course is aimed specifically at the requirements of the national curriculum for IT in any subject, and, as a new course, brings fresh ideas to the subject in schools.

IT has a lot to offer schools, from regular and subject-specific software to the almost unlimited resources available on the Internet. And now a new breed of teachers will soon be emerging, trained to teach IT as a main subject and to co-ordinate its effective use across the curriculum.

Some of the students on the Warwick University course have developed an education resource on the Internet that is available world-wide. It has links to education sites all over the world, free resources (worksheets, templates, etc) for use in the classroom and information about the latest developments in IT education. The "Education Resource" is growing every week and is expected to be taken up by the 40 new students starting the course in the nextacademic year.

More universities have identified the need for IT specialists in general teaching and a number of new courses will be starting in September 1997. Warwick University also provides an option for non-IT specialists on the PGCE course to learn about using IT in their lessons, but training needs to be on a far greater scale. Schools, too, need to invest in IT training for teachers already in the profession, and it should not be just about "how to use the software". Teachers need to know how to use IT properly to enhance and support the learning of their pupils in their specialist subject areas.

Information technology in general and the Internet will soon be a major part of their everyday lives; they must be properly prepared to exploit the opportunities this presents to them.

* Paul Long is studying for a PGCEin IT at Warwick University. The university's IT PGCE "Education Resource" can be found at http:www.warwick.ac.ukedpcvitpgce.htm. Michelle Selinger can be contacted at m.selinger warwick.ac.uk

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