Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Schools must embrace mobile technology

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Testing out the latest school gadgets

The need for schools to prepare for 21st century learning was top of the agenda at this year's BETT conference.

They must embrace mobile technologies, games, podcasts and social networking, according to leading educationalist Professor Stephen Heppell.

Schools should also break away from traditional classroom and curriculum models, he argued.

The gap between those schools embracing technology and those not is getting bigger, he said.

Prof Heppell was speaking to delegates at BETT, the world's biggest educational technology show.

Technology revolution

Meanwhile the UK's minister for Schools and Families Vernon Coaker reiterated the government's commitment to putting technology at the heart of the school curriculum.

"Teachers need access to innovative services. We must prepare pupils for the future workplace," said Mr Coaker.

"Cutting edge technology is the cornerstone of our reforms," he added.

The UK's Building Schools for the Future programme will see every state secondary school in England rebuilt or remodelled over the next 15 - 20 years.

But in that timeframe there could be a big divide between schools, thinks Professor Heppell.

"There is a gap between the schools that are doing pioneering stuff and those simply doing a shiny version of 19th century teaching," he said.

Cells and bells

Much of the debate in the conference centred around how technology can be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum.

For Professor Heppell, who advises governments around the world about technology policies, the answer is both radical and simple.

He thinks schools need to move away from what he terms "cells and bells".

"We have to get away from the 35 minute timetable blocks. We need to reconfigure schools for a week of immersion in numeracy and dress the school for a learning production," he said.

"We need much longer blocks of time and to allow children to be in charge of their learning," he added.

One of the ways to do this is to integrate the tools that children are using in their lives outside of the classroom.

Skyping infants

At Lampton Secondary School in Hounslow, play is a significant part of the school ethos and children were at the conference demonstrating how games consoles such as the Wii and GPS devices can be integrated into the classroom.

Meanwhile at Cleveland Junior School in Redbridge, Year 6 pupils have been busy designing their own computer games.

"We made a storyline and introduced characters and designed the backgrounds,"explained 11-year-old Rezwana.

"More schools should use the software because you can put your own personal thoughts into the game," added classmate Pawan, also aged 11.

The games the children made were sent to a nearby infant school where Year 2 pupils played them and suggested improvements via Skype.

But not all schools are so keen to embrace technology. Many still ban the use of mobile phones and social networking sites such as Facebook.

Turned off devices equals turned off children
Professor Heppell

"Turned off devices equals turned off children. Sensible schools use mobile technology to their advantage, putting up a telephone number about an issue such as bullying and getting pupils to text their views," said Prof Heppell.

Teachers may be more willing to embrace technology but the resources are not there to back them up, a survey from Intel has found.

Intel, which has ploughed £1bn into educational programmes around the world over the last decade, asked 2,700 teachers from 15 countries about technology in their schools.

While 98% felt that technology was critical in preparing pupils for the workforce, three quarters also thought governments were not doing enough.

70% of teachers thought children should be provided with a personal laptop but only 3% had such access.

Home access

"The worst thing you can do is give a child a computer without access to the internet," said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel's emerging markets platform group.

In the UK the government has just launched a new scheme dubbed Home Access to offer both internet connectivity and hardware to 270,000 families on low incomes by March of next year.

Eligible families need to apply for a grant and they will receive £500 to put towards kit and connectivity from a range of suppliers.

The fact that families are in charge of what kit they get should mean it is more successful than previous schemes, thinks Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta, a government agency that is co-ordinating the project.

Chris Green was one of the pilot familes who trialled the scheme in Suffolk.

She has seen big improvements in her son, Colin.

"He uses it for homework and I can access the school website. I wouldn't be without it," she said.

Colin is about to take his GCSEs and is thinking about further education, something he would not have contemplated a year ago.

But not everyone is convinced the Home Access scheme is the answer.

Home access is necessary but not sufficient. You can't just parachute technology in
Professor Heppell

"Home access is necessary but not sufficient. You can't just parachute technology in," said Prof Heppell.

"We haven't done a great job helping mums with how to help their children read and we need to make sure that we help them with computers.

"Unless that happens it will be nice to get a laptop but it doesn't begin to solve the problem," he added.

Schools too need to adapt or they will find more pupils rejecting the current educational system, he warned.

"Put 'virtual schools' into Google and you get 387,000 references. Children in the future will have choices about where and how they learn and if schools aren't enticing, pupils won't come."



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