Education Quandary

My daughter's school says its new 'learning platform' will be revolutionary. Is it worth the cost?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Good question. "Learning platform" is the fancy new name for a bundle of ICT systems delivering and supporting learning. At present, most schools use isolated bits and pieces of technology - the odd whiteboard here, or computerised registration system there. Learning platforms draw all these things, and much more, together.

A learning platform will allow every pupil to complete and keep work online in their own specialised workspaces. It will help teachers to plan and manage lessons, schools to streamline administration, and parents to keep tabs on what their children are doing. There are all kinds of exciting possibilities. Children could be given extra support or stimulation with their own personal curriculum. They could access courses from other schools, or get work at home when they're ill, or in hospital. They should be able to work anywhere, from any computer, and there'll be no more "dog ate my homework" excuses.

It's an exciting vision, one that's at the heart of the current education White Paper, which foresees personalised learning for everyone. The Government wants every pupil to have an online workspace by 2008, and is making money available for schools to move towards this. Technology is so central to our lives now that it would be daft if schools got stuck back in the old days.

But everything will depend on how the technology is used. People must be at the heart of things, and nothing will ever replace the heart of good learning - which is all about how teachers explain things to pupils, how they support and encourage them and nudge them towards discovering what they're capable of.

Readers' advice

I fear for your daughter if this means, as it sounds, more time sitting at computers. My four young grandchildren do nothing but stare at a screen. They don't play imaginative games, or even go out into the garden. One is already putting on more weight than is right for him. Their parents accept that this is normal, but I worry where it is leading.
Maisie Crichton, Devon

I have no idea what a "learning platform" is. I do know that our school is crying out for French and Spanish language assistants, new labs and a cafeteria that looks as if it belongs at least to the 20th century. Where will the money come from for that?
Clive Brooks, Bristol

Lots of money in schools has been wasted on bad technological investment. A learning platform will only be revolutionary if the people buying it and using it make the right decisions. Schools and local education authorities need to go slowly on this, and think through all the financial and technical implications. They need to ask themselves what they want from it, and how they will use it. And they need to think about how staff - and pupils - will be trained to make the most of it. Help and advice is now coming from the Department for Education and Skills, and from Becta, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency.
Howard Hardcastle, London W4

Next week's quandary

Our son is floundering at university. We have told him to see his personal tutor, but he only has the name of someone he has never met. This man has nothing to do with the course our son is on. When we rang the university, they said this arrangement was commonplace. Is that right? And how can such people give useful advice?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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