Laura Kirsop, a London primary school teacher, has a passion for technology — and a desire to see ICT change to benefit teachers and their pupils equally. This is from Wired UK…
A lot of primary school teachers in the UK want to get their students’ ICT skillsup to scratch but they face a multitude of barriers that are hard to shift.
Firstly (and rather crucially), there is a lack of working computers in most schools. As a supply teacher working in London schools I’d flinch if ICT was on the timetable. Usually this meant shepherding children into a suite of aging PCs where a significant percentage were broken or working painfully slowly. Sometimes it meant dragging a trolley of laptops down a corridor to find out a bunch of them hadn’t been charged and most of them couldn’t connect to the internet.
A lot of our students (and not just the affluent ones) have much better computers at home and so to them ICT lessons are a joke because of the school hardware being substandard or badly maintained. Most ICT lessons start with the sound of moaning about how long the computer takes to log on. Some schools manage to raise money or assign budgets carefully and get their equipment up to date, but unfortunately for most schools it is not a priority or perhaps just impossible when faced with a multitude of other issues.
Networking and internet access is another huge problem. Most schools, it seems to me, are yet to have a connection capable of allowing a whole class to use the internet at once. Want to get your whole class on CodeAcademy? No way. Want them all to visit a particular site and do some research? You’re joking. It is that bad. Walk into most primary schools and ask to connect to their Wi-Fi and people will stare blankly or laugh. This is mostly because the one time they had a quote for getting Wi-Fi throughout the building they were told their walls were super thick and so it would cost them a huge(ly inflated) sum of money.
The great thing is that once you are actually online the chances are you probably won’t be able to visit any of your favourite sites. By default everything interesting is blocked. You might get lucky and happen upon a school where the management are reasonable and some things have been unblocked (by requesting that the nominated contact at the local education authority (LEA) does so) but otherwise you and the kids have no chance of checking your email, playing games, or communicating with friends. Even educational sites with social elements are blocked automatically.
E-Safety is important. I want students to stay safe and be great consumers and producers of internet content but we have gone too far. How are they going to learn to use the internet if half of it is missing? Moreover, what does the world gain if we bore our children to death talking about how dangerous the online world is all the time?
Imagine a parallel world where you are the ICT coordinator of a school and all of what we’ve talked about so far isn’t a problem. You want the kids in your school to learn some awesome stuff like programming using Scratch or Lego Mindstorms. You want to get them blogging, podcasting or make a TV show that streams weekly on your website. Rad, you can do this with your class! But, chances are, none of the other teachers in your school can do it with theirs. It is not their fault. Perhaps they didn’t grow up nerdy but (more likely) they do not really understand what technology education should look like and they are way too busy to find out.
I’ve sat through training for ICT coordinators that barely mentioned anything except online safety and internet resources for other subjects. Our kids are great at learning their times table facts by playing online games and typing up their work; they are considerably less great at understanding how computers work and creating their own games and online content. This has got to change right now or we will be doing a whole generation a disservice.
It doesn’t help anyone to be problem oriented, so what are the solutions?
1. Schools need more money to buy and maintain up-to-date computing equipment. I don’t mind how this happens but it is essential.
2. The government needs to provide schools with a ring-fenced budget to fund decent internet access.
3. There needs to be a universal whitelist of sites that are okay to access in schools, decided by a panel of experts.
4. We need to train our teachers better. Universities, LEAs and ICT coordinators need to up their game and the technology industry has to get more involved. We need programmers and developers in schools working with kids and teachers.