Wills vows Grid cash will keep on coming

14th April 2000 at 01:00
The Government pledges to see through funding for the class of the future. Chris Johnston reports.

Funding for information and communications technology (ICT) in schools after the four-year National Grid for Learning (NGFL) initiative ends is guaranteed, learning and technology minister Michael Wills has said.

He gave the assurance at a seminar on the "classroom of the future" held by the Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) last month.

Although details will not be known until the Treasury releases its comprehensive spending review in the summer, Mr Wills said the NGFL will not be a one-off. "Funding is going to continue," he told delegates at the Dudley meeting.

He said there was no question of support being withdrawn as the Government recognised the importance of every child leaving school as an effective user of technology. He added it was too early to say what would supersede the NGFL but there was "no doubt about our commitment to the entire agenda".

Mr Wills spoke at the seminars in an attempt to stimulate dialogue between teachers and the DFEE on the use and direction of ICT in schools. He appealed for teachers to tell the Government if they believed some approaches were wrong and to reveal strategies and techniques they had tried and tested in class. A website, www.futureclass.ngfl.gov.uk, has been set up to foster debate.

Input from teachers was vital because they knew best how children learned and would remain central to their learning process in the future, Mr Wills said. This underlined the importance of the New Opportunities Fund programme to train all teachers in using ICT in the lassroom.

He said the Government did not pretend it was doing everything right and admitted there was a host of challenges to be faced, such as ensuring the digital divide between computer haves and have-nots did not widen.

A West Midlands primary head told the minister that schools like his could be opening their ICT facilities to the public out of hours and playing a greater role in winning over technophobic adults. However, he said teachers could not be expected to run afternoon and evening sessions on top of all their other duties.

Mr Wills acknowledged that primary schools were the centre of many communities and said officials were starting to look at how they could be opened up as part of the lifelong learning strategy.

Ian Lynch, project manager of the KentSomerset virtual education action zone, said an ICT solution for schools that was portable, wireless, inexpensive and reliable had to be found. Laptops were not the answer as they required too much technical support and he believed the answer could lie with a device like Psion's netBook. Mass manufacturing to reduce the pound;800 retail price and the soon-to-be-available high-speed wireless Internet access would make it viable for every student, he argued.

Danny Owen, Warwickshire IT inspector, told Mr Wills that the pace of technological change meant reform of the examination system was needed. He said that because methods of learning were changing, the outcomes of learning would be different, which meant the measures should also change. The length of time needed to change the exam system meant a debate should start immediately, Mr Owen said.

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