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EDUCATION - FROM YOUR DESK TO YOUR DESKTOP

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Rapidly changing technology makes it hard to plan for the schools of the future, writes Tony Eccleston. ...
Rapidly changing technology makes it hard to plan for the schools of the future, writes Tony Eccleston.
My niece at age five once asked me: 'How did the man who built the roads know where we wanted to go?'
I feel like him when I think about planning the information superhighways of the future. Now that links between ICT and standards have been demonstrated, we must get on with planning the schools of the future.
Curiously, it is easier to imagine the impact of ICT on schools 10 years from now than it is to plan for the next three or four. In 10 years we are likely to have:
-Individually customised access to learning
-Virtual teachers and an emphasis on guiding learning
-Interactive learning packages readily available online
-A wide range of multi-media devices that can be linked to a much faster internet
-Complete flexibility in where you learn.
So, how do we get there when local government is still tied to an annual funding round and only knows central government's intentions, at best, three years ahead?
The regional broadband consortia illustrate this well. After an intensive year of creating innovative structures for broadband connectivity for schools, we fear government funding may run out in 2003. We really need agreement that ICT is central to the work of schools and education departments, and a funding regime to recognise this.
Until then, the best we can do is map the trends that will shape the schools of the near future. Teaching and learning styles must change to make more use of interactive systems. This will not undermine traditional reading and writing skills. Nor will it counter the emphasis on class teaching if schools use interactive white boards more. Unfortunately, government targets are focused wholly on computers on desks. Schools will need a much more flexible range of devices.
Over the next few years, high-quality digital content will stream into schools. The issue of who produces it is unresolved. National and regional grids, able to cache and label content, must play a growing part.
The professional development of teachers must keep up. Teachers' access to computers is one of the limiting factors.
Access is a crucial issue. As learning materials become available online, pupils and parents will access them from home, libraries and portable devices. In Bracknell Forest, we are creating study support centres at schools, at the ice hockey stadium, in libraries and in community centres.
Smart-card technologies link our schools to attendance, e-purse and travel schemes. Online access to education services for parents will follow soon. Planning for schools is inseparably linked with planning for the whole network.
-Tony Eccleston, director of education, Bracknell Forest BC.
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