School ICT is not in crisis, it may be finished


There is something very radical going on. In my field of ICT in education hitherto there were always enough signals, gossips and leaks to get the general drift of where things were going. Now no leaks, no clues, just one word ‘cuts’.

The budget deficit is having a mesmeric effect with the result that the order of the day in the public sector is ‘stop whatever it is that you are doing right now.. especially if it is unnecessarily expensive’. This has fairly unnerved everyone, how do you know whether what you are doing is necessary?

But within education another set of factors raises the stakes further.

Education is on the receiving end of ‘abolitionitis’. The supervising bodies for the curriculum (QCDA) and for technology (BECTA) are gone. Full scale reforms of the examination system will radically reduce what is taught in schools and make what is tested harder. Moreover my Borough has had its BSF projects cancelled and intends all its schools to be come. Academies: in effect it is abolishing the local education authority.

You may clap your hands and say ‘good riddance’ to excessive centralised control of what is spent on what, what is taught and how it is to be taught... give the teachers freedom and save money in the process.

Yes all fine but hang on a mo’. The current generation of teachers are utterly unprepared to think for themselves. They have had over 15 years of deeply authoritarian and prescriptive micro management. Psychologically they are completely unprepared. They will simply stop in their tracks.

The new administration may have made a serious error. Cutting and abolishing radically with no obvious road map, no published ‘vision’ that teachers could sign up to (or reject) accompanied by trashing an entire educational paradigm will give rise to the ‘Friday afternoon’ problem.

The Friday Afternoon problem is well known in scientific circles. It refers to the idealised notion that a scientific theory can be dis-proven if evidence comes to light that refutes it. In reality the incumbent theory supported an army of adherents many of whom had built their careers on its articulation and who ran labs and employed technicians to aid that enterprise. If on Friday it was refuted what on earth would you all do on Monday morning?

Well, on a Monday morning after the summer break we may find schools and its workers utterly bewildered and doing stuff but just going through the motions.

Even with the best it will take time to re-learn independence, the last generation to experience it have nearly all left the profession (there are more non-teaching qualified teachers of working age than there are teaching in schools).

When faced with the loss of the stream of instructions most people simply stop dead.

In our Borough ICT investment will just stop. If this becomes typical the hundreds of ICT companies which depend on supplying the education sector with equipment will simply go bust very quickly during the hiatus. The ICT service contracts (our Borough was 100% outsourced to SERCO), VLE provision and so on will have to be renegotiated separately or just dropped altogether.

I want ICT to thrive in schools but in a Monday world its utility must be self evident. No, I will go further, if school ICT is to survive its utility must be compelling, obvious and inexpensive.

I would like to meet the sales rep who could make that case right now.

My following posts will concentrate on maximising the utility of ICT in schools.

If as an industry we do not do this we will effectively disappear from schools.