The Future of ICT in Schools

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The future of IT in UK schools is a subject which pre-occupies me, as any reader of this blog will know already.

The reason is quite simple; on one hand we see fundamental changes in the way in which new technology is being used, 'on the streets' as it were and on the other we see an institutionalized attempt to fossilise students' IT into a particular way of doing things (circa 2001) and to peddle this, ad infinitum, to the next generation.

The result has been a near complete disillusionment with school IT by students and teachers accompanied by a near total loss of the desire to upgrade all but the oldest facilities.

This situation is bad for education and near disastrous for UK ICT business.

To illustrate how times have changed, I manned (arm having been seriously twisted) an ICT suite for an Open Afternoon this weekend at an extremely successful Secondary School. Each computer in the suite had a 'test your typing speed' application up and running for visitors to try. For the 3 hours I was there, NO ONE visited the ICT department. Five years ago this would not have been remotely the case. Why suddenly is ICT boring.

Schools control their own budgets but their spend on ICT divides into what they have to do and what they elect to do.

In the former category, directly as a result of the Government’s obsession with collecting data on its citizens, schools, in effect, have to buy into Local Authority compatible databases systems which include the Management Information Systems (MIS) and the new Learning Platforms (LP or VLEs) and a host of other assessment and recording initiatives.

Not surprisingly the big companies (RM, Capita and Serco) fight for these lucrative contracts and the schools pay up reluctantly and sullenly.

Meanwhile, the schools discretionary ICT spending on teaching and learning in the classroom has stalled, actually it's stopped.

Becta officially advises them not to upgrade to Widows Vista and Office 2007 as even if the MOU allowed Microsoft to give it away it would mean upgrading most of the hardware stock to run it.

Becta are also actively encouraging schools to switch to Open Source software through the School's Open Source Software Project (SOSP) in order to save money.

Finally, schools are dissatisfied with the costs and services and responsiveness of their suppliers.

What the above means is the following:

  • Schools' spending on ICT is driven by administrative needs, is largely infrastructural and somewhat resented.
  • The pedagogical promise of ICT has withered under the oppression of 'Office' key skills; no one is interested.
  • Classroom focussed ICT spending has all but stopped with severe consequences for UK computer business.

It may appear to the hapless users stuck with unimaginative products serving deathly boring syllabuses that they are now so firmly under centralised control and that school ICT is in terminal (sorry) decline. However, change can happens from below and I would like to explore this further in the coming paragraphs.

Where change is going to come from.

The Brief (and highly selective) History of Personal Computing

Before the 1980’s computing was a terminal-server model controlled rigidly by managers through all powerful Systems Administrators.

Then along comes a period of anarchy.

ZX81, Atari, Amiga Acorn. We went wild, for the first time an individual could afford a computer of their own.