Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications

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  • UK Education and the Internet

    Unmetered Internet access for schools is vital. No further explanation is needed: the reasons are as obvious as those we gave for unmetered Internet access for e-commerce.

    We have already explained, in a submission to OFTEL, how such access can be brought about: by a universal unmetered tariff which anyone can pick up and use rather than the currently favoured method - of special rates for 'designated institutions' - which is simply unnecessary, developing new tariffs which need not exist.

    The beauty of unmetered Internet tariffs for schools and, more broadly, easy availability of computers there is that it flattens out inequality at home. I remember my later years at school when home computers were just becoming available: a few printed essays started to appear amongst the handwritten ones and it was obvious that those assessing work could not avoid being influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the superior appearance of the printed page.

    We believe, rather surprisingly, that Internet access is probably a secondary issue for the moment; every school must have reasonably modern computers with proper software packages, printers and either scanners or digital cameras. Then each student has the opportunity to produce work of equivalent visual quality; thus what matters - the content - can be focused on.

    This may seem rather unambitious but, when there is Internet access, we note that a lot of media coverage of computers in schools concentrates on 'spectaculars' such as videoconferencing with schools on the other side of the world. The basics, such as learning how to use word processors and spreadsheets, and finding out how to use the Internet to gather meaningful information about the topic in hand, must come first.

    The most obvious use of computers in schools is as a straightforward tool to aid written work. However, subjects with little written content can have computers as a more direct participant; we see a coming revolution in art and music teaching.

    A number of issues show up on going beyond modest proposals such as ours:

    • How are teachers, who are often reluctant to use computers, going to be trained to use them as a tool for learning?

    • What happens when pupils know more about the mechanics of computers than their teacher?

    • What happens when pupils use the Internet to learn more about a subject than their teacher?

    • The Internet positively encourages reuse of existing information. How can this be reconciled with continuous assessment and other techniques which assume that work is original to the person being assessed?
    These questions have probably been asked elsewhere, but we are not aware of much debate on them.

    Certainly the long-term effect of bringing the Internet into the classroom is that the relationship between teacher and student will, perforce, change: no longer will the teacher hand down received wisdom on tablets of stone.

    Text by Alastair Scott

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