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Three Rs are not needed on voyage to 21st century

An advertisement doing the rounds of most of the educational publications invites teachers to take their class on a visit to a Victorian classroom. We can sit on the terrace of varnished benches, use quill pens and ink wells, and experience the harsh discipline, rote-learning and repetition of a typical lesson. The worrying thing is that our current national curriculum would not be that out of place in such a setting.

The subject content would be perfectly familiar to any Victorian teacher, as would the current fixation with literacy and numeracy standards, the 3Rs. Is this the education to best equip our children to tackle the challenges of the 21st century?

Take a look in any modern office - in your local education department, or the offices of The TES. When was the last time you saw a handwritten document of any length? Yet handwriting, (and spelling and grammar) still loom large in the English curriculum, even though mundane mechanical recording skills are being performed by word-processing, desktop publishing and, increasingly, word recognition processing. Even reading is of declining importance as libraries and museums digitise their books and most current text comes in digitised form, all of which can be accessed via a speaking word processor.

The Government has recently published the National Grid for Learning - an ambitious project which claims that by 2002, "all schools will be connected to the superhighway, free of charge; half a million teachers will be trained: and our children will be leaving school IT-literate". The cover graphics illustrate changes in communications technology over four millennia, from hieroglyphs, manuscript and moveable type, to digital computing.

Will we have the courage to take this next step to digital computing? The curriculum challenge is to kick out the baggage of a past technology, pens, pencils and paper and an over-obsession with the retention of facts. The consultation paper on the grid would command more confidence if, as well as the frequent mention of links to industry and the private sector, it had at least alluded to some formative relationship to our own national curriculum.

COLIN HARDY 2 Whelps Cottages Dunton Road Laindon Essex

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