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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 13:07 GMT
Digital plan for individual learning
College chemistry lesson, BBC
Computers enter the chemistry lab
Pupils could be working at their own pace on computers, using lesson plans downloaded from the internet, under government plans for a "digital curriculum" in England.


Curriculum Online will provide teachers with the best resources available and will free them up to do what they do best - teaching

Education Secretary, Estelle Morris
Ministers think these model lessons and other content developed by the BBC and independent providers will allow pupils to work better at their own pace.

From next September, 50m is being made available to fund what the government calls "Curriculum Online".

The Department for Education said: "This ground-breaking service will bring exciting new learning materials to teachers and pupils' fingertips, enabling learning to become more flexible than ever."

Tony Blair visits school, BBC
Tony Blair: "This can help our children learn better and faster"
It is not yet able to say how the 50m will be divided among England's 23,000 schools.

The BBC is proposing separately to spend 150m over the next five years, developing core curriculum material for all ages, across the UK's four education systems - subject to the approval of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

It plans to commission half the content from outside the BBC.

'Helping teachers'

The government has scrapped a more limited scheme, in which the BBC and Granada were each developing material for three GCSE subjects.

This had annoyed independent educational providers who were not broadcasters and were therefore excluded from the original competition to do this.

Curriculum Online has five elements:

  • a "shop window" on the web, with online curriculum resources including a library of e-learning materials
  • access to commercial products for schools to buy, including a guide to the best written by teachers for teachers
  • "e-Learning credits" - money for schools to buy digital curriculum resources
  • software for to help teachers find the resources they want
  • a "watchdog" advisory panel to ensure resources are available for all curriculum subjects.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, said the new service would help teachers to spend more time teaching and motivating pupils, by providing quick, safe access to lesson materials through the internet.

It would also raise standards by offering one-to-one support through the internet and individualised learning that allowed more able pupils to progress at a quicker pace and motivated and supported the less able.

She gave, as an example, pilot projects for 11 to 14 year olds in maths, Latin and Japanese, and Channel 4's Bafta award-winning Gridclub, which helps 7 to 11 year olds with homework.

Interactivity

"It will be an incredibly important tool for teachers in helping them to plan lessons," she said.

College vice-principal, BBC
Simon London: "The worst thing you could have would be text books online"
"Curriculum Online will provide teachers with the best resources available and will free them up to do what they do best - teaching."

Ms Morris accompanied the prime minister, Tony Blair, to launch the scheme at Greensward College in Essex.

The college's vice-principal, Simon London, stressed that it was not about putting text books online.

"An online curriculum has got to be interactive - with video clips and sound files and responses that can be given to students," he said.

Industry commitment

The BBC's director-general, Greg Dyke, said: "The digital curriculum is key to the BBC's promise to make learning a top priority for the BBC in the 21st Century."

"Interactive digital technology has the power to make a huge difference to the way we learn."

The British Educational Suppliers Association, representing many of the commercial players, said the announcement signalled the government's commitment to making a reality of the potential for online learning.

Its director general, Dominic Savage, said: "For the educational supplies industry and for schools this a welcome confirmation that the government sees online learning as a priority and is committed to funding the necessary content in schools."

Mixed signals

Research published by the government agency Becta, based on an analysis of test results and Ofsted inspection data, indicated that schools that made good use of information and communication technology (ICT) generally outperformed those that did not.

The New Opportunities Fund - lottery money - gives schools money for training to give their teachers confidence in using ICT in their teaching. This ends next year.

Feedback on the quality of the training, which is done by commercial companies, has been mixed. And, for primary school teachers, there is no subject-specific training.

Earlier this year, Ofsted reported that one of the problems was teachers' having to do the training in their own time.

It criticised the fragmentary nature of the funding and services available.

It said there had been recent improvements in pupils' abilities in the information technology part of the curriculum - but that standards were still lower than in most subjects and varied widely.

Union concern

Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers accepted there could be a growing use and effectiveness of computers in the classroom, to the benefit of all.

"However, progress will be painfully slow unless the government frees up resources and creates time in which teachers can be trained and become confident in the use of ICT to develop more effective ways of teaching," he said.

"But computers are a long way from replacing teachers and textbooks entirely. A good dose of reality would be welcome to avoid ministers being carried away on flights of fancy.

"ICT can be a godsend when it is of the right quality, with the finance required to keep up to date in a fast-changing market and the support staff needed to restore systems when they crash and other hitches develop."

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Education
Boosts for online learning
07 Nov 01 | Education
Computer use in schools rises
08 May 01 | Education
Slow impact of school computers
11 Sep 00 | Education
BBC develops 'digital curriculum'
02 Apr 01 | Features
Teachers' computer training doubts
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