7th January 2005 at 00:00
Professor Diana Laurillard, who is head of e-learning at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), will have traditionalists in the department reaching for their smelling salts. Faced with the question of whether a school should introduce a uniform or, instead, encourage parents to spend their hard-earned on new technology, the Professor found it a bit of a no-brainer. "Access to a PC and to the internet gives a child more than a uniform ever would," she told delegates to a National e-Learning Foundation conference.

The choice doesn't have to be that stark. There is a middle way which will satisfy both technophiles and the two-thirds of the population who, according to a DfES survey, believe that uniforms improve discipline and standards. Even as you read this I am adding the final touches to my design for the first truly smart school uniform. It's "smart" both in the sense that the blazer is suitably braided and badged, and because it has cunningly incorporated into it all the gubbins from inside a PC.

To see the sort of thing I mean visit sites such as Wearable Central (http:wearables.blu.org) which offer a virtual catwalk of ingenious wear-ware. You see how processor, hard disk, DVD drive, modem and the rest of the gubbins can all be Velcroed to a sleeve, stitched to a trouser leg or tucked safely away in a convenient hem or gusset. A helmet, of course, is obligatory. It's needed to support the retractable rod from which a VDU dangles at eye-level. I'll admit that the outfit is not particularly stylish. But I'm sure children will be happy enough to wear it, providing it is adorned with a suitably fashionable designer label.

Teachers needn't feel excluded from this sartorial revolution. They could opt for an anorak similar to that modelled at www.gizmo.com. which has an LCD screen cunningly incorporated in the back panel, transforming the wearer into a living whiteboard. As well as being an invaluable aid in the classroom, the jacket can also be used as a high-tech sandwich board, enabling teachers to earn a few extra bob by parading slowly through the high street advertising local businesses. Staff who have strong religious convictions or who believe ICT will ultimately undermine traditional educational values could display in flashing 180 point Times New Roman, "The e-nd is nigh".

I intend to submit my items of wear-ware to Nesta Futurelab's Design Challenge 05 which is being launched at the BETT Show in Olympia. The scheme offers technical and financial support to a dozen daydreamers so that they can transform their bright ideas into working prototypes. It's open to anyone. But before sending them your latest brainwave, it's worth visiting www.nestafuturelab.org to remind yourself that NESTA's romantics still believe that the role of emerging technologies in the years to come will be to provide exciting new ways to learn. In reality, of course, for many decision-makers in schools, the big attraction of ICT is that it will offer exciting new ways of keeping tabs on kids.

Control freaks will be particularly interested in the pioneering work being undertaken by Applied Digital Solutions (ADS) in the USA. Their VeriChip is no bigger than a grain of rice but can be packed with data. Members of the Jacobs family in Florida blazed a trail by having chips containing their medical records embedded in their arms. A medic only has to wave a scanner at an arm to have an immediate update on the chipee's case history.

ADS has gone from strength to strength with the technology proving popular outside the field of medicine. For example VeriChips are the latest must-have accessory for clubbers at Baja Beach Club in Barcelona who are thus saved the inconvenience of having to carry a membership card.

The educational applications are obvious. Since the Verichip is injected under the skin, chipping pupils needn't be any more painful than a BCG jab or more controversial than the MMR vaccine. Once installed, registration would be as fast and as accurate as a supermarket checkout. Better still, the chip could contain everything about a child that any teacher could ever possibly want to know. As the pupil progressed through the school, more information could be added - exams passed, teams played for and suchlike - so that the arm would be a living record of achievement which, unlike the old-fashioned printed version, would never accidentally be left on the bus or dumped in the nearest bin on the way home from the last day in school.

Mums and dads are unlikely to object when they realise that if they purchase a scanner for their home they will be spared the tedium of ever having to attend another parents' evening.

And things can only get better. ADS has developed a more advanced chip that beams out a radio signal so that the pupil's exact location can be pinpointed using global positioning satellites. It means that the teacher, with a single stroke, will not only be to tell who is missing from class but precisely where they are. Then all he has to do is don his smart jacket, corner the truants in their hideout, turn his back on them, and continue their education with an impromptu PowerPoint presentation.

It might not be the educational future they dream about at Nesta but, rest assured, even if these products aren't available at Olympia this year, they will eventually appear at a BETT show. Probably a lot sooner than we think.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today