Letter: A computer revolution for schools

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The Independent Online
Sir: Hamish McRae ('Technology must learn how to teach', 9 June) asks how technology can be used to help the education sector. Let's start with our worst problems.

We have an endemic and self- perpetuating shortage of maths, science and technology teachers in our schools. As a result, all too many school-leavers have poor skills in these areas. Many also have a poor grasp of English grammar and spelling. As a nation we are ill-equipped to speak to foreigners in their own languages. Our overloaded teachers are struggling to deliver the national curriculum and cope with the attendant testing and administration.

All these problems could be addressed if we made more use of electronic media, but an initial injection of capital is needed first. As a rule of thumb, it takes 100 hours to produce a module of computer- based training that will teach the average student for about an hour. By 'teach' I mean that the program will not only supply information, but also interact, allowing choices, giving feedback when the student answers questions and routing the student to supplementary, fast-track or revision sequences according to recorded progress. The 100-1 ratio might sound high, but it allows for research and design, graphics, programming and validation.

Such a development ratio implies high costs and this is why the involvement of the Department for Education is needed: the high costs become very low if the same program can be used for children all over the country at the appropriate stage of development.

The advantages of a concerted effort to use the available technology would be numerous. Students would be able to work at their own pace on the computer programs and many would have a better chance to explore individual interests. Computer testing would be possible in some aspects of some subjects. Teachers would have more time available for pastoral work, creative and project work and national curriculum testing and administration. Teaching could become more individualised while standards became more universal.

Despite the range of computer programs targeted at schools and colleges, we have not begun to think of the difference that could be made by a national decision to really exploit electronic media in the education sector.

Yours sincerely,

CAROLYN McMAHON

Pattishall, Northants

14 June

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