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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.

It's time to start spending again

Schools should buy technology of the workplace of the future

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The results of a survey published this week unequivocally supports the thesis that school-children are revolting. Specifically, they are not happy with the technical resources provided by their schools. It seems they have spotted that this is the 21st Century and that their computers and software are from the 20th Century, a time before many of them were born.

Despite valiant attempts by their teachers to incorporate ICT into the history syllabus, a report this week indicates that they have been rumbled.

A survey of 1,000 students was carried out and the report’s main findings include.:

... ICT in Schools needs to improve: 60% of UK teens felt that the government should provide them with better technology education. Only 20% felt it was good enough....44% fear that poor technology education will block them from getting a good job in the future. Almost 8 in 10 that have considered a career, believe good technology skills will make a positive difference to their future employment prospects. 

Ok kids, we get the message, beige is so minging. The question is what, if anything, should we do about it? That is, in the future, what shall be taught and what shall be bought? 

Well, the first has been sorted out. ICT teaching is to be replaced in the large part by ‘computing’ and there is a £20k bribe on the table to recruit suitable teachers. The second however is more problematic, what shall we buy?

The problem boils down to the modern dichotomy of “What do students need to prosper in the white heat of the hyper-competitive hi-tech world?” and “What do students actually want?” 

The latter point is easily dealt with. They want iPads, MacBooks, Galaxy SIIIs, iPhones, Kindle Fires  and Nexus 7s. If we were still in the 1990s, we would simply go out and buy them and work out what we might use them for later. But this is not the 1990s. Today, we are cash-strapped and looking for a proper reason to buy things that transcends a brat’s un-birthday present wish-list ( this reference will only be appreciated if you are middle-class and overpaid).

So, taking it all seriously, what should be bought by schools? I had a look around to find out.  

Work-place technology: Weybridge, Surrey

A quick tour of workplaces on the industrial park near where I live is pretty predictable. Lots of office workers using office apps: email and attachments, mail-merge spreadsheets and CRM software plus a support crew to keep it working is the norm. ‘Execs’ have Smartphones, laptops and PowerPoint’s to support their suits but otherwise do little differently to the office... even ERP software seems to be dying in the arms of endless, hopeless MBAs. Oh yes,  and every now and again the support crew gets the video conference kit going for a while.

I also met hard-line, mostly self-taught techs who use CAD software, Matlab and/or dabble with a bit of code. The burger-flippers, stock controllers and Weatherspoon employees I found adept at ePOS touch-screens.  

That’s it folks, no robots except a dusty vacuum cleaner and keeping clear of the ‘white heat’, basically anything I found, schools already have. I hate to say this kids, but I can’t think of anything to buy you that will help you get on with the existing work-world tech... if you think XP is ancient, wait till you get a job!

Having drawn a blank in work-world - what remains as a ‘driver’ to buy, now that gullibility is not quite so fashionable in school procurement? We must look to the future, because here we have a chance to up-skill the worker-to-be. So following my reasoning, schools should buy technology of the workplace of the future. 

So what does it entail?

The Workplace of the Future

It will use XP.  Sorry, I’ll be serious... but don’t expect me to say Windows 8.  Our students will take instant personal mobile communication and working for granted, so no more email and workstations for them; there will probably be more headsets combined with virtual screens and touch screens. Better buy a class set of Google’s Project Glass visors and some tablets. They would be ideal for delivering an augmented reality dose of text and graphics to go with my voice in their earbuds.

What else? How about CAD technology, art, movie and design work or even higher maths? This must be in 3D, naturally, so we will have to buy some serious computing power to go with our 3D printers... a mini-mainframe with some terminals in a dedicated room sounds about right.

Finally they will be used to a paperless document management world using an ereader of their choice.

So imagine this, our future-proofed student in an interview:

“Are you familiar with Outlook? We can share calendars you know,”
“Oh yes, we have XP and a LaserJet 4.” 

Cutting edge, us.

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