Government not doing enough to wire schools

Teachers: 'One Internet connection per school is not enough.'

The government is not doing enough to get UK schools online, claims Chris Thatcher, president of the National Association of Head Teachers.

This week the Labour Party has been evangelising about its commitment to wiring every school to the Internet, with chief secretary to the Treasury Alan Milburn promising to have every school connected by 2002, and doubling the money spent on IT in schools.

Thatcher believes it is not enough. "There is no point in providing every school with an Internet connection. One Internet connection per school is not enough, and the government is simply using [that figure] to justify its target," he said. In the US, by contrast, almost 90 percent of classrooms have access to the Internet, and distance learning via the Internet is being implemented in many schools.

Thatcher accuses the government of shortsightedness and claims that what is really needed are the resources to train teachers and pupils how to adjust to the Internet age. "If there is no more investment, a lot of computers are going to be sitting in classroom corners not being used," he said.

Demos, a government think-tank, recently released a report aimed at radically overhauling the curriculum. The organisation has recommended that 50 percent of the traditional curriculum be cut to enable schools to realise the full potential of Internet learning.

Thatcher thinks the education system in ten years' time will bear little resemblance to the current one. "Students will have individual access to the Internet via PDAs," he said. "Teachers will adopt mentor roles and much of the curriculum will be received via the Internet. Knowledge will take a second place to developing the skills to use, manipulate and analyse the information the Web will provide."

As ever, a great deal of the money to implement the government's vision will have to be supplied from the private sector. In a bid to help cash-strapped schools, Time Computers is joining forces with The Times newspaper, and newsagents John Menzies and WHSmith, to give away £35m worth of hardware and software. From now until January 2000, tokens will be given away in The Times, The Sunday Times and the Times Educational Supplement, and with purchases of £5 or more in John Menzies and WHSmith; the tokens can be exchanged for educational software or PC hardware.

In a separate speech at the Labour Party Conference, Culture secretary Chris Smith announced a plan Friday to give away free tickets to arts and sports events via the Internet. Under the scheme, unsold sports, theatre or concert tickets would be made available to schoolchildren via an Internet clearinghouse.