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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

UK education ICT is in a terrible hole

Bett 2011: The definitive guide to how to keep digging

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I must say what a pleasure it was on an early Friday afternoon to be able to stroll around in the relative cool of an uncrowded arena and be able to enter as many free draws to win an i-Pad as I wished.

Better still, I was not hassled by the ‘men in black’ from Apple, Amazon and Google who were mercifully not touting their Pads, Kindles and Cloudy-app things as they were not there at all.

Instead it was heartening to see so many smaller ICT firms with decades of experience supplying the school market occupying hitherto improbably large stands in prime areas. These folk have all sorts of niche gizmos that would do any school proud. There were also lots of stands with robots (eg RM-LEGO inc) but alas no Androids.

Amongst the big vendors the message was equally upbeat with literally dozens of Interactive Whiteboards and generic Taiwanese Netbooks adorning their stands to the unamazement of the onlookers searching for tablets (not even a Dell Streak was to be seen).

I and three others thrilled at Microsoft’s presentation entitled ‘licenses (sic) explained’ and later marvelled at RM PLC changing its logo to purple.

As lunch approached I spent a happy 35 seconds in the Innovation-Free zone eating a mackerel and pearl barley salad learning that the ‘future is on-line content delivery’ according to the big publishing houses. Here too from these great companies I found a few (odd format) e-books and an on-line test creation something or another.

Here also a chance meeting with an ex-colleague revealed that Open Source software in education was far from dead and that children could use Inkscape to draw stuff and Ubuntu had developed an OS that bore more than a passing resemblance to Windows 3.1 and were giving out free coasters.

I sat down made some notes and concluded thus:

Bett 2011 was showcasing: two old products, one old OS and no new ideas. Apologetically more than one vendor explained to me that you can’t sell anything in the UK that the schools cant wire up to the Windows network domain*.

I said this would happen. On my journey home via Tottenham Court road I looked into the stores and saw a paralell universe of shiny stuff selling like hot cakes. Worse, the not so young shop staff within reminded me that over a quarter of our under 25s are unemployed; ICT graduates having the worst record of all!.

I don’t think I will go next year, even if the show is on... but seriously folks, if you really want to sell stuff into schools ... generate some excitement and look to the future.

* Please do not mention SAMBA as a solution ... you would have to apply euthanasia to most of Edugeek’s school techs to introduce SAMBA on Linux into schools … hang that’s not such a bad idea…

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