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United we learn;Cover feature

Parents know children are awake for 5,000 hours a year and only 1,000 of those are spent in school. So what happens to the other 4,000? Scoilnet, the Irish version of the National Grid For Learning (NGFL) launched at the end of September by the minister for education and science Michael Martin, tries to supply some of the answers, not just for students or teachers but also for parents.

The Scoilnet site is produced in partnership with Intel, and Peter Hamilton, of Intel Ireland, describes it as the first complete education portal in Europe. By this he means that the site is simultaneously aimed at parents, teachers, students and pupils. And by targetting all these groups, Intel hopes to provide a suitable context for life-long learning.

Compared to its UK equivalent, the Intel logo on the front page of the Scoilnet site comes as a surprise, as does its mixture of commerce and learning; visitors soon arrive on Intel's own pages. At the moment the site does not have the austere feel of some UK education sites; but how other IT companies in Ireland view this coup by Intel is anyone's guess.

Intel is spending pound;101 million worldwide on education, mostly in the US. Many in education are cynical about the contribution business can make to their field, but Hamilton points out that it is in Intel's interest to get it right because the company's future workforce needs this kind of education.

Scoilnet takes a different strategy to the NGFL with content. It already has 1,200 pages of content for teachers, pupils and parents and a team of 50 teachers and six students will develop further content for every subject in the curriculum. A "Content Wizard" will allow teachers and students to send content to the site. The same Content Wizard will also enable users to create online magazines and newsletters.

The material on the site for parents ranges from adult education and career planning to discussion groups. There are also areas where parents can share ideas and knowledge. Intel also hopes parents will use the Content Wizard; for example, parents of children with special needs can use ScoilNet to chat and exchange ideas with those in a similar situation.

It is going to be interesting to see how this radically different model develops; Scoilnet's homogenised view of the learning community may well yield very different results from the UK model of almost competing interest groups. The direct commercial input from Intel could also well impose a different kind of discipline and professionalism.


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