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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Schools 'failing to tap e-cash'
Girl looking at computer screen
E-learning can help re-engage youngsters, say experts
Schools are failing to spend a large pot of money provided by government for e-learning, according to ThirdForce, a provider of electronic learning tools.

Only half of the 100m budget the UK government set aside in 2003 for e-learning credits was spent, it says.

The Department of Education confirmed that the budget for 2004 was so far only half spent.

E-learning has been touted as an important strand in modernising the curriculum in schools.

PlayStation generation

The debate about how to bring learning up to date is firmly back on the agenda following the Tomlinson report.

If schools in France or Germany had this kind of budget, they would bite your hand off to get to it
Brendan O'Sullivan, Thirdforce
Published this week, it provides a blueprint for the future of secondary education.

Making provision for electronic learning needs to be key, said Brendan O'Sullivan, the chief executive of e-learning provider Thirdforce.

"The worldwide web and PlayStation are the language of today's youth and we should use the same type of virtual reality and simulation to engage and motivate learners," he told the BBC News website.

For example, e-learning could provide a virtual laboratory for a science teacher, allowing children to conduct experiments in cyberspace that would be too dangerous to do in the classroom.

"People learn more if they do than if they sit and listen and studies have shown that the 14-year-old of today thinks differently and has a different environment to the 14-year-old of 20 years ago," he said.

"Teenagers today have a remarkable propensity to be comfortable using electronic media."

The fact that teachers are often more comfortable with traditional text books and that e-learning credits have been poorly marketed to them are among reasons why the budget is often left unspent, added Mr O'Sullivan.

There are also challenges for the industry to come up with learning tools that teachers and children want to use and to make these tools less piecemeal and more integrated into the curriculum.

'Active promotion'

The government introduced e-learning credits two and a half years ago and the money translates as 10,500 for each secondary school in the UK.

Schoolchildren using computers
Schools have spent years getting infrastructure right
The money can be spent by visiting the website Curriculum Online and choosing materials from a variety of accredited providers.

The majority of schools now have broadband and a good number of PCs and many are also using interactive whiteboards.

"The infrastructure is already there and schools are missing the opportunity to provide pupils with a complementary learning environment that fits with their natural modus operandi," said Mr O'Sullivan.

"If schools in France or Germany had this kind of budget, they would bite your hand off to get to it," he added.

The Department for Education and Skills believes it is "on track" to spend this year's e-learning budget

"We do actively promote e-learning credits," said a spokesman for the DfES.

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