Your Views: High tech no easy answer to Blair's big new numbers

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Ben Russell's article "The University Challenge: where to put the 500,000?" (Education+ 12 March) on Tony Blair's ambitions to squeeze in another half a million students during the next few years, raised a number of interesting questions. Are the students really out there? How will the latent demand for further and higher education be made effective? In other words, how will it be funded and will most new students be part- time rather than full-time? And above all, in a system which is bursting at the seams, how and where will the extra students be taught?

The stock answer is, of course, technology. Distance learning through technology-based programmes will enable further and higher education to reach more students at lower marginal costs. Much of this makes sense. There is a great deal of scope for the further development of virtual courses, text, and databases across a wide range of subjects and for the growth of electronic communication and conferencing between students, tutors and other students.

However, there are costs. Teaching needs to be rethought and this will be expensive in time and other resources. In most institutions the journeyman- apprenticeship model, already severely challenged by the development of a low-cost, mass system, will be finally put to rest.

The point is that technology offers a means of distributing courses more widely but it will only help to facilitate good learning if these pedagogical, human and resource implications are taken on board at the outset.

Professor Geoffrey Channon

Dean of Humanities

Professor Kate Fullbrook

Associate Dean of Humanities

University of the West of England

Keep a broad mix in

Sixth Form studies

I strongly agree with the ideas expressed by Mrs Hilary Fender concerning too much specialisation in the Sixth Form. I suffered from this many years ago as a Sixth Form student, and it has taken me the best part of a lifetime to overcome the damage done. These two years can provide the student with a context or framework into which later specialisation can fit. Specialisation undertaken too early can produce a kind of tunnel vision.

The division of knowledge into subjects, although necessary, is artificial. The two Sixth Form years are perhaps the only opportunity the student may have to see the subject(s) in which he/she may wish to specialise in a wider context. As Mrs. Fender says, these two years are an opportunity for the student to learn to take some responsibility for him or herself and to make informed choices. Too early a concentration on one or two subjects can make that aim very difficult to achieve.

I hope those responsible for suggesting that the first year of a university course should be undertaken at school will think again. Knowledge out of context is rarely useful and can be dangerous.

George Fulleylove



Forms need the best

contents to succeed

My letter on the fundamental problem of poor quality in school textbooks ("`Useless' books cast a gloom", Education+, 19 February) has prompted replies both for (5 March) and against (12 March), but it has not brought out evidence on the size of the problem. Has no-one else analysed the content of books on subjects other than the one I looked at - weather?

It seems to me there are three steps towards improving the content of school books. First, publishers should ensure that their authors are competent, or at least that drafts are vetted at an early stage. I suggest this could be approached through advice from professional societies and associations.

Second, specialist reviews of all books should be published and made easily accessible to teachers. Third, teacher advisers should ensure that only the best books are recommended.

What do publishers think would be the effects on the first step of widespread implementation of the second and third?

David Pedgley, Crowmarsh, Oxfordshire

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