Why we buy computers we do not need

NESTA* reported this week that schools are wasting millions of pounds buying computer equipment that they have no real idea what to do with and which end up sitting on shelves. They cited the current craze for tablets. It was ever thus (oops...

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NESTA* reported this week that schools are wasting millions of pounds buying computer equipment that they have no real idea what to do with and which end up sitting on shelves. They cited the current craze for tablets.

It was ever thus (oops Turnitin didn’t like that phrase ). School ICT procurement always has been and always will be predicated on psychology and status. Thus the usual situation is that those with sufficient status to be allowed to spend tax-payers’ money (and no longer spend any time in the classroom) use the projection of a vague hope of educational benefit and a desire for ‘shiny’ as the driver to buy.

I don’t mind this, I like toys as much as the next person and have drawers full of discarded and unloved palmtops/netbooks and usb sticks. I regard random procurement as a process of natural selection ... only the fit will survive and who knows what they will be?

At college my foray into tablets came to a shuddering halt this year when the class sizes increased so that we would have to share tablets! This resulted in a ‘back of a cupboard scenario’. It was followed, soon after a series of ‘Open Evenings’, with their permanent removal by some light-fingered individual.

So imagine there is no ICT heaven (Turnitin, stop... this is my take on a phrase, not plagiarism) no computers, no printers, no nothing. Would education cease? No one claims that computers are essential to teaching or learning ... do they? Technology may enhance teaching but is the gain worth the pain?

Management love their MIS software, but I don’t. I know it only exists to provide third parties with false data and has no role to play in improving teaching. Many in education love school email but not me: It serves mostly to waste my time. The photocopier never stops reproducing the output of printers attached to PCs. They merely generate endless mind-numbing work-sheets ... cursed is the day it was invented say I.

Now, PowerPoint is excellent for teaching ... only joking, PP is pure death to any lesson. Think the worst meeting you’ve attended with PP slides then imagine sitting on a stool in a darkened room and being aged 13.

I do think it’s hard to genuinely justify spending on technology in education and so years ago I came to the conclusion that you don’t really get into these kind of arguments. We want the toys so we have to persuade others to buy them and fortunately those others are a bit gullible and blessed with little understanding of things tech.

I do have tinges of guilt from time to time - for example when I read report like the one produced by an IT firm this week. It surveyed 29,000 children using its software and its finding starkly showed that 15 and 16 year olds had average reading ages 5 years lower than their chronological age. This means they can’t read their GCSE papers, which is surprising because not only have primary and secondary school results been increasing year on year but 90% of children have met their reading requirements aged 11!

When I read this kind of result I know technology is partly to blame. It helps divert resources away from reading and towards a distracting visual world and of course it generates all those stats that tell the Government that all is well when we know it isn’t.


*NESTA the meaning of which was not easy to find on their web-site because like BECTA, BT, BP and ASA** we are supposed to respond to the ‘brand’ and not worry about the acronym.

**Another S*****g Acronym pretending that we know what it is.

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