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There's no free lunch online

WOULD you like a free Christmas present? Go to - the Sun Microsystems website - and download a copy of Star Office. It'll take quite a while to amble along the telephone lines into your PC, but you'll have a package that is as good as Microsoft Office for most things and better at others. Not only that, it will read and save in Office format.

If you can't face hooking up to the net for several hours, get it on disc as a magazine freebie, as I did. They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but I'm still looking for the catch with this one.

Meanwhile, Skoda car pool new boy Father Ted is leaving us. The recent returnee to teaching is going back to a previous incarnation as a salesman of laboratory equipment. Naturally, his company are providing him with the tools of his trade, namely a Peugeot estate car and a laptop computer, doubtless with all the software necessary for his job.

Just in case anybody hasn't noticed, the revolution has already started. There are now numerous ways in which information and communications technology can enhance learning and teaching - from searching for resources to collaboration with distant colleagues.

And naturally, the purse-string holders are looking for a continuation of the free lunch they hae enjoyed so far. Most teachers who are ICT literate have had little or no training from their employers. As to financial help, the pound;200 voucher towards the cost of a computer came too late for many of us and only covers about a quarter of the cost of the sort of set-up needed to do our job.

I have to confess to a split personality on the issue of teachers' ICT competence. Part of me is exasperated by colleagues who have never logged on to a school network installed well over a year ago. Another part of me remembers that the only training the local authority ever gave me on basic package skills was, until very recently, eight days in the mid-eighties on Interword, UltraCalc and Desktop Database, all on the BBC Micro.

Everything else has been passed down by colleagues in their free time or learnt through trial and error. There are training packages on offer now but they assume competence in the fundamentals and are not specific to any commercial packages.

The revolution needs everyone on side. Laptops for all! Training for those who need it!

And if you're at an in-service day with a free lunch, make sure you get to the buffet table before the techie teachers.

Gregor Steele will soon be seeking applicants for the car pool vacancy.

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