In a world increasingly interconnected through networks and dependent on knowledge, the interface between education and technology is vital. That's why Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is currently - and appropriately - central to the education agenda, and to the Government's drive to transform education at all levels. More and more, the everyday technological experiences of learners outside schools and colleges are being replicated in their place of learning, while the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) now reports an "unprecedented willingness to engage" with ICT among the teaching profession. Clearly our society's educational and technological experiences are fundamentally changing.
The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is right there working at the interface between education and technology. Our unique contribution on these issues is the ability to combine knowledge of the needs of education with an understanding of the power of technology to harness the opportunities offered by technology to the country's learning institutions.
We are here to support the development of the education system through the exploitation and embedding of technology in learning and teaching, in educational organisations and by developing wider education networks and systems throughout the country.
Becta is the Government's key partner in the development and delivery of its ICT and e-learning strategy for schools and the learning and skills sector. As a national agency, we support all four education departments in their strategic ICT developments, facilitating knowledge transfer among them in order to encourage innovation and improvement and bring coherence and synergy to nationwide developments.
Our aims are, firstly, to improve learning and teaching through the effective and embedded use of ICT and, secondly, to increase the number of educational organisations making effective, innovative and sustainable use of ICT. Clearly, in order to do this we also need to improve the availability and use of high-quality educational content and to develop a coherent, sustainable and dependable ICT national infrastructure for education. "Educational content" is the phrase used to describe digital resources developed and used for specific educational purposes, and "infrastructure" includes broadband connectivity and support services.
Becta influences and supports the Government and its agencies in policy development by finding and disseminating robust evidence of what works in the application of ICT to learning and teaching. We keep a close eye on emerging technology and ICT's impact on education. We also provide advice and targets direct to the education sector through partnerships and networks, and by supporting improvement strategies such as the Literacy and Numeracy strategies.
A further key role for Becta is developing strategic relationships with national and multinational ICT businesses. We also set standards, evaluate and accredit products, monitor performances and assist with the understanding of the needs of the educational sector.
The level of public funding in ICT in education is unprecedented, so it is vital that education institutions are helped to procure products and services - at best value prices - and with the level of post-sales support that meets their specific needs. Working in partnership with the supply industry has proved highly effective thus far.
Over the last five years there have been many individual instances where ICT has transformed learning and teaching in classrooms and institutions, however they are still the exception rather than the norm. We now need to draw together these individual effective instances into a programme of systemic change. Our challenge is to create a holistic approach to teaching and learning with ICT, one which connects the needs of the national education system with the needs of the locality - including the home - to generate an inclusive, interconnected and creative learning environment for all to use.
Owen Lynch is Chief Executive of BectaReuse content