The world watches the Highlands

These are exciting times for educational technology in Scotland. You can catch up with the latest developments next month at a conference and exhibition in Glasgow

Scotland seems to be on a roll this year with its own parliament only seven months away and a new millennium round the corner. People are looking to the future. Forget romantic images of tartan and heather, this is the home of some of the most advanced information and communications technology developments in Europe.

Scotland has its own approach to the National Grid for Learning, and its own timetable. Launched at the end of August, six months after the English grid, with announcements from the Scottish education minister of Pounds 62 million to get every school, college, university and library connected, the grid is already well under way.

The University of the Highlands and Islands, one of the most radical approaches to higher education in the world, "rolls out" this autumn with its first full programme of courses, watched eagerly by governments of remote rural communities everywhere. With thousands of students scattered across 13 colleges and research institutions from Perth to Shetland and the isle of Lewis, the university, which expects to acquire full status in 2001, depends on the latest video, voice and data networks.

Advanced technology is also helping Glasgow establish itself as a "blueprint for a learning city", with its 10 further education colleges linked into the Glasgow Telecolleges Network. The colleges are taking their wares out to the community, offering small enterprises and adult learners the opportunity to call in at any of their sites and tap into interactive courses across the network.

At the other side of the country, West Lothian has used local government reorganisation to create a new identity for itself, adopting a hi-tech approach. As an education authority, it is one of the most advanced in Europe, with schoolchildren already being issued with photo-ID cards and e-mail numbers to enable them to drop into libraries and community centres out of school hours and gain access to their own files.

Add to these individual schools, like Linlithgow Academy, which acquired its own broadband network four years ago, and Richmond Park in the east end of Glasgow, where young children with physical handicaps have pioneered new uses for new technology, and you see that lifelong learning with ICT is already a reality, if you know where to look.

f you don't, or simply need advice and pointers, or to get your hands on the latest machines and software, all of it will be brought under one roof at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow at Tactics Trends 98, a two-day conference and exhibition run by the Scottish Council for Educational Technology (November 4-5).

But don't expect a narrow Scottish perspective there. While Scottish schools and colleges will be given an arena to display what they can do, exhibitors and speakers include a panoply of international names, including global companies such as Microsoft and CISCO (whose routers and switches drive 80 per cent of the Internet worldwide, including the University of the Highlands and Islands). There will be experts from south of the border and abroad, sharing their experience of how technology can change the nature of learning - Vincent Lowe from the Smart Schools project in Malaysia, Bob Fryer, one of Britain's first professors of lifelong learning, from Southampton, Sandra Wills (via a video link) from Wollongong University in Australia. Information and communications technology and the superhighways know no borders.

Gillian Macdonald Assistant Editor, 'TES Scotland' Tactics and Trends 98: The Scottish minister of education, Helen Liddell, will open the conference and exhibition at 10am on November 4. Tactics Trends is organised by SCET and Emap Education in association with 'TES Scotland'

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