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Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 13:10 GMT
Broadband heralds big changes
Children sitting at a computer
Can broadband transform the way children learn?

Connecting every school and doctor's surgery in the UK to a broadband connection is not enough, say experts.

This has to be done hand in hand with modernising and changing the way pupils are taught and patients are treated, they argue.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to hook up every school or GP practice in the country by 2006.

But experts question both how the government will achieve its goal and what real benefits it will provide for pupils and patients.

Culture change


Medical professional don't talk to each other.

Mike Wilkinson, Department of Health
According to the government there is evidence that using information communication technology throughout the curriculum in schools has a direct effect on standards.

It also believes that broadband technology will permit individual learning, allowing children to work at their own pace.

There are great cost savings to be had by putting online the mountain of paperwork, often duplicated, associated with the health service.

But this will require a radical culture change, argued Mike Wilkinson from the Department of Health's head of the Medical Leadership Project.

"Without good leadership the tools and products won't be used," he said at a recent broadband conference.

"Medical professional don't talk to each other. There is animosity between groups," he said.

Professor Terry Young of Brunel University sees that the real challenge will be persuading people that broadband is a valuable tool for modernising and streamlining the health service.

Shining examples

"Infrastructure is disconnected to the world of people. The challenge is to bridge that gap," he said.


It could completely change the timetable and the relationship between teachers and pupils

Martin Freeth, FutureLab
Doctors, nurses, patients, content makers and infrastructure providers will need to sit down together in order to make the full use of the technology.

Doctor's surgeries using broadband technology have found big advantages for patients, not least in being able to get all their carers together for diagnoses via video conferencing.

In the education field there are also good examples of how technology can benefit pupils.

Ashcombe Comprehensive School in Surrey already has several modern computer suites connected to high-speed internet access.

The school became a language college in 1998 and since then has used computers to provide native French lessons and interactive quizzes.

The number of top grades has jumped up from 63% to 80%.

Deputy head David Blow is convinced that broadband will be as essential a tool for a modern education system as the computers themselves.

"Without suitable bandwidth you can't deliver the curriculum equally for all pupils," he said.

"It allows a lot of children to access the net simultaneously as well as allowing specialised stuff such as video-conferencing," he said.

More fun

However it is essential that broadband is not seen as a solution in itself.

"It needs management and the resources to support it as well as staff training, good technicians and good schemes of work," he said.

Nesta FutureLab develops innovative learning resources for schools. Its Chief Executive, Martin Freeth, said broadband-enabled schools could create a much more fun learning environment in future.

"There will be a lot more educational games. It could completely change the timetable and the relationship between teachers and pupils," he said.

"Children could be going home and using the net for things of real educational value instead of playing ghastly shoot-'em-up games," he added.

But using broadband technologies, for instance to link up British and French schools during language lessons, could have a disruptive effect on timetables and will require both schools and teachers to be prepared for radical change, said Mr Freeth.


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19 Nov 02 | Technology
19 Apr 02 | Health
09 Jan 02 | Education
27 Dec 01 | Health
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