Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Schools should embrace technology

By Stephen Crowne
Chief executive of Becta

Every year at the beginning of January teachers across the country dream up their own New Year wish lists when they visit the BETT Show at Olympia.

Filled with the latest innovative pieces of education technology, the four-day exposition gives those that work in education and the technology industry a taste of what the classroom of the future will be like.

But outside the classroom our lives are already filled with amazing pieces of technology.

It's so ingrained in our lives that it's often easy to forget quite how much we use it: MP3 players, mobile phones, digital cameras, satellite navigation systems, digital radio, the internet, swipe cards for buses and trains, chip and pin devices: the list is endless.

Despite its ubiquity outside the school gates, some people are still nervous about using technology in the classroom.

Perhaps it's the fear that technology will one day replace teachers and books altogether. But the reality is quite different.

No one is saying that technology is a substitute for good teaching, which remains at the core of effective education.

Technology for teacher

On the contrary, technology provides teachers with powerful tools to boost what they are already doing in the classroom: explaining, demonstrating, involving and engaging pupils in learning.

Technology can help teachers bring their subjects to life like never before.

How many of us would say that staring at a two-dimensional diagram of a kidney in an exercise book is more effective than watching the dissection of a kidney, layer by layer, on an interactive whiteboard?

And think of the benefit to a student of having a one-to-one video chat with a pupil in Barcelona during a Spanish class using VoIP.

When it's well used, technology allows pupils to enjoy more interactive methods of learning where teamwork and collaboration are commonplace.

'No longer a distant dream'

Schools that are already using technology to support learning often note the confidence that pupils gain from using it. And it's easy to see why this is the case when, for example, pupils are posting their work online via podcasts for others to see, or forming online study forums where ideas and information can be shared.

Many schools are already using a wide range of modern technology including interactive whiteboards, scientific digital sensors, computer aided design tools, digital photography and video conferencing to create increasingly stimulating and exciting environments for their students to learn, with inspiring results.

But these schools are in a minority, with only around 20% of the country's schools currently using technology to its full potential. And it's a global issue.

This week, Becta hosted the Learning and Technology World Forum - an international event attended by ministers, policy makers and education professionals from around the world to discuss and share practice, ideas and insights in the field of technology in education.

It is universally recognised that technology offers huge benefits to the way people can learn.

Schools that still believe technology should only be used in ICT lessons are missing the point. Let's hope those that visit this year's BETT Show will help spread the message that technology in education is no longer a distant dream - technology is part of everyday life for us all, and it holds untold potential for those schools that use it to support learning.

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