POOR USE OF COMPUTERS IN SCHOOLS?
Bectas demise may not have much of an impact
On 24 May 2010 the Government announced a package of measures to reduce expenditure in the public sector. This included the planned closure of Becta. So Becta is on its way out with its web site closing at the end of this month and the quango gone by April 2011 . Becta provides universal support for ICT in schools. Its demise though will not generally be much lamented. Becta did a service though by pointing out that just one in five schools use computers effectively and far too many seem to think that computers can only be used to assist with exams and tests rather than more creatively. Schools spend £1.65 billion a year on information technology, with one computer to every three pupils in secondary schools, and one to six in primary schools. Yet as the Times pointed out not long ago some heads, particularly those who were involved with the BSF programme, complain that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and are forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers. An Ofsted report in 2009 found that only around half of the schools visited showed that they were systematically evaluating the impact of ICT resources on improving learning.
The mastering of Microsoft Word programmes , spreadsheets and data input seems to be the main priority in too many cases. Why Microsoft was allowed to gain such a virtual stranglehold in our schools is largely down to Bectas initial relative inaction . Becta started off very close to Microsoft and became slowly estranged .It only acted with robustness very late in the day. It did ultimately refer Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) alleging that the software giant was benefiting from abusing its dominant position in the market but Becta had looked slow on its feet with the drawn out negotiations suiting Microsoft. Becta focused on getting deals on expensive hardware and software paying little attention to other cheaper or free options. It then began to understand the benefits of open source access but was then heavily criticised by the open source community following its decision in 2008 to award its open source schools project to a little-known assessment firm AlphaPlus Consultancy tasked with setting up and running the open source project . The aim was to support ‘ schools with awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development of their use of Open Source Software…. And to complement existing OSS community initiatives within schools and elsewhere. ‘…
Open source software is developed using an open and collaborative approach where the outcomes of this joint effort are made available to users without charge. The program code is not kept closed, but is published for others to study and improve as part of this spirit of openness and collaboration.
High quality Freeware and open source have been available for ages . It means the system and the programs do not require proprietary licenses. For example OpenOffice.org is a free suite of Office tools. It has the same core components as proprietary options, such as a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation builder. Indeed, there is an open source alternative to most of the major applications.
This means that there is not only a lower cost overall, but also students can use the same programs on home computers. There is less threat too from viruses, and if used efficiently less memory is needed . The widely used Linux system claims to be as flexible as Microsoft and in some respects easier to use.
John Spencer, former teacher, turned blogger, thinks things are going to change fairly quickly on the ICT front as more schools become academies. “Say goodbye to: outsourced services; any unsexy software (such as Microsoft Office that they could get just as good for free); interactive whiteboards; GCSE and A2 ICT examinations (it’s about £100 per pupil per exam),” he writes on the IT website Computerworld. And what is going to take their place? “Fast broadband; anything Apple (special educational deals on iPads); lots of videoconferencing kit; vocational ICT qualifications (from Cisco, RedHat, Microsoft).”
Spencer believes it may be that the frustrated school governor is going to see life become easier — at least in procuring IT equipment and software. And it may turn out that removing Becta a body that was meant to make it cheaper for schools to get computers, actually allows them now to get a wider variety. And for children preparing for a computer-driven world, it might well be a boon if it can bring a more creative approach to how they use the machines in schools.
Meanwhile the challenge remains to harness the enthusiasm and expertise of young people in gaming , surfing the internet and social networking so that this brings greater benefits to their personal learning and education.
Joe Nutt, a senior consultant with CFBT Education Trust, will be releasing a report this month which looks at ICTs use in schools ‘ Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools.’
Note also that the BETT Show is 12-14 January 2011