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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 21:21 GMT
Teachers asked to shape hi-tech future
By Gary Eason
Teachers are being asked to help to shape a new curriculum to ensure that their technology-rich future classrooms deliver better educational standards.
"We are very hungry for ideas," the Technology Minister, Michael Wills, told the first of a series of technology roadshows, presenting teachers in England with a view of the classroom of the future.
"We are spending a great deal of money. We want to hear what you have got to say."
Mr Wills told an audience of several hundred at a hotel near Heathrow Airport that technology and the internet would be crucial to the future of the country's children.
One of those in the audience was Coventry headteacher Chris Thatcher, who is also president of the National Association of Head Teachers.
He was worried that even the newly revised national curriculum being introduced this year was really a 19th century approach that had managed to carry on through the last century.
"Do you really think that the curriculum as it stands is the right curriculum model to take us into the 21st century?" he asked.
The short answer was "I don't know," he added.
But there would still have to be a curriculum - and rigour and discipline in teaching and learning. "These machines won't change that one bit."
Mr Wills also said the government recognised that the current emphasis on getting hardware into schools was at the expense of useful content - but the infrastructure had to be put in place first.
"But content is absolutely crucial - and integral with that we have to recognise that high capacity broadband access throughout the country is crucial," he said.
Mr Wills accepted that the present approach - which requires local education authorities to submit projects for high speed internet links in partnership with other organisations - could lead to inequities.
But the broadband consortia approach "may not be the best way, and we are prepared to keep looking at it," he said - inviting people to notify him if they felt it presented long-term barriers.
"We want every school in the country to have the benefit of this," he said.
One school which already has a broadband net connection is Cranford Community College, a specialist language college near the roadshow venue.
Its headteacher, Marion Brookes, said she had thrown out the staff handbook - it now existed only on the school's computer network.
"I can't remember the last time I sent a piece of paper round," she said.
Teachers knew that the best way to get hold of her was to send her an e-mail. Students could submit work by e-mail.
Students and staff were using the internet to share ideas with those in other schools.
And not only in this country: the technology had been used to capitalise on the school's language specialism, and the fact that 91% of the pupils are from ethnic minorities with almost as many having English as a second language, to make award-winning international connections.
"We use the technology to work smarter, not harder," she said.
Another striking presentation was made by two final year pupils from Priory Primary School in Slough, Berkshire.
With remarkable self-confidence the two girls, Danielle Wyld and Hayley O'Connor, talked over a laptop-driven Powerpoint presentation, complete with sound effects, about how computers were used in their lessons.
Their head of year, Florence Rostron, said the focus of the school's use of technology was on curriculum delivery and raising standards.
"We are very confident that our results are rising, particularly in science, because of our use of ICT," she said.
"If it doesn't make standards go up, if it doesn't improve the learning, then it isn't used. This is not about learning ICT for its own sake."
But she said it would never replace the one-to-one interaction between pupil and teacher.
"If your teacher is not an expert then the ICT won't help them," she said.
But used well it made lessons more fun for the children and easier for teachers to prepare and deliver.
She found it "a scary prospect" that by the time pupils left the school at the age of 11 their ICT capabilities typically exceeded those required of qualified teachers.
There are seven more roadshows:
The government wants the debate on its ICT strategy to continue on a website: futureclass.ngfl.gov.uk. The department says it should be up and running soon.
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