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The BBC's Torin Douglas
"Teachers and pupils could use the curriculum on an 'interactive whiteboard"
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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
BBC develops 'digital curriculum'
school computer room
An increasing number of schools have net connections
The BBC has given details of its ambitious 135m plan for a 'digital curriculum' to provide interactive teaching support across all subjects throughout the UK, for students, parents and teachers.

We recognise that we are not the only producer of digital material for schools ...

BBC consultation document
Public consultation has begun ahead of a formal submission to the government, which would have to approve the proposed new public service.

The idea is to begin in a limited way in a year's time, building up to the full range of subjects over six years.

The BBC says it aims to collaborate with public and private sector partners in devising and delivering the curriculum, which will be tailored where necessary to meet the separate requirements of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It's difficult to see any real competition building up if the BBC uses public funding to build a complete, free-to-air digital curriculum

RM plc
"The plans are ambitious. We believe that they have the potential to help raise educational standards throughout the UK," said the BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland.

The new service would deliver, through the internet and digital television, material on every main subject for schoolchildren of all ages and abilities in every part of the UK, starting with English, maths and science for 11 to 16 year olds and English and maths for primary school pupils.

Teachers and pupils could use the system in a variety of ways - either through individual computers or via an interactive whiteboard for whole-class teaching, which the proposal says might be a more cost-effective option for primary schools.

Teachers would be able to customise material for pupils and keep track of individual progress. The material could also be used in the home by parents and children.

Teacher's impressions

Early versions of the learning materials have been tested in a number of secondary schools, including Wrockwardine Wood comprehensive in Telford, Shropshire.

The science materials included experiments that were too dangerous to be done in school, or were beyond its capacity by being industry-related, according to the information and communication technology co-ordinator, Richard Smith.

"It was very useful," he said. "But we were a bit surprised about the time commitment - teachers weren't sure how they would fit it in to their ordinary teaching.

"It would be ideal for children who have got access at home, though, so they could continue to explore further."

As a maths teacher, he was impressed with the mathematics module. One of the best features was that children could work individually at their own pace, so the slower ones did not hold back the group.

But to his surprise, after three weeks of using the materials, the children got bored with them, missing the group atmosphere and interaction of normal lessons.

Commercial competition

The BBC's plan is likely to be claimed as a threat to commercial providers of educational material.

"We recognise that we are not the only producer of digital material for schools and that others are already developing services," the consultation document says.

"We believe that our experience, expertise and public service responsibilities mean we must be central to the digital revolution in schools.

"We welcome the opportunity to work with others towards the provision of complementary material, giving teachers, children and parents access to a range of high quality learning resources."

RM, one of the major educational hardware and software suppliers, said anything that drove "a vibrant market" had to be a good thing.

'Schools want a choice'

"However, whilst the BBC curriculum superficially looks like it might have something to offer, we are concerned about the broad impact it could have on the developing learning content market," said RM's director of corporate affairs, Phil Hemmings.

"Not only could it damage competition in the UK market, it also won't help the government achieve its much publicised aim of making the UK a world centre for the production of high quality, vibrant learning content.

"Schools want - and need - to have wide choice over their learning resources supplier.

"But it's difficult to see any real competition building up if the BBC uses public funding to build a complete, free-to-air digital curriculum."

The result could be a "state-endorsed monopoly provider", he said.

Chris Hopson, managing director of Granada's Result service, claimed they had pioneered the concept of turning the national curriculum into a series of digital resources four years ago.

"The plans the BBC has announced today are very similar to those we have already developed and presented to the Department for Education and Employment," he said.

Discussions with the DfEE and the BBC were going on, which might lead to a partnership with the BBC.

The BBC is not proposing to provide the information technology on which the service would depend, but would work with public and private sector partners "to encourage the roll-out of new systems, to help develop common technical standards and to ensure that our material is compatible."

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Education
Schools 'on track' for online target
22 Aug 00 | Education
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25 Aug 00 | UK
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10 May 00 | Education
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