Sunday, 4 January 2009

Is School IT coming of age? Some reflections on growing up.

Have you ever wondered where we would be without IT? Every year the vast majority of Independent Schools invest increasing sums of money into IT, yet what do we have to show for it? 2009 marks the eighteenth birthday of the World Wide Web, is this the year that School IT will come of age?

In the 1990s, most likely at the instigation of some forward-thinking enthusiast on the staff or Governing Body, Independent Schools were swept along on the wave of IT investment that dominated the business world. Schools dutifully found from within their ranks, or bought in from outside, network managers who commissioned school sites to be dug up and the cables went in. Governors, Headteachers and senior managers knew that IT was important, but few knew or understood why.

The same could be said of the Government and the Maintained Sector. The Government also considered IT important and consequently voted enormous sums to the enterprise. Its inclusion in the OFSTED and ISI Inspection criteria only served to highlight the necessity of IT investment. However, the essential ingredient that was lacking in both the Independent and Maintained Sectors was an educational vision for the use of IT. How was any of this investment going to improve what fundamentally goes on in classrooms around the country?

The vacuum was filled by the IT suppliers, who certainly had a vision for how rich they could become. To its great detriment, IT in schools in the early years was supply driven. The IT Industry persuaded the Government and the Governors that every pupil should have access to the internet at school and that there should be a computer and an Interactive Whiteboard in every classroom. Industry again stepped in to fill the void when it finally dawned that there was not sufficient quality content available, and, again, to train teachers to use the equipment. In those heady days, one only needed to spend a few minutes at BETT to see the saliva as the sales reps licked their lips at the prospect of devouring the next flock of unsuspecting innocents who have been packed off by their school, desperate to get a tick the IT box in their next inspection.

We, in schools, should not beat ourselves up too much about this – for business and industry made the same mistakes: Nicholas Carr incurred the wrath of the IT supplier establishment, when, in 2004, he argued that,

".... for most businesses it [IT] has been a source more of frustration and disappointment than of glory. It has allowed many companies to substantially cut their labor costs and working capital, but it has also let managers to plow cash into risky and misguided initiatives, sometimes with catastrophic results." [Does IT Matter? p. x]

In the Education sector, we haven't even seen the benefits of reduced staffing costs; on the contrary, we have seen them grow.

There are indications, however, that School IT is beginning to come of age. As the key components [finally] have come together to enable the effective use of IT in the classroom. Most schools now have a sufficiently robust network, adequate bandwidth to access the internet, suitably knowledgeable and skilled teachers, and effective on-line teaching resources.

Of course there have been some excellent classroom practitioners using IT effectively over the past eighteen years and a great debt is owed to these pioneers. However, in many cases IT has thus far been used to automate the educational process – the typical use of PowerPoint by teachers and pupils is a case in point. The challenge for teachers as School IT comes of age is to find an educational vision of how to use IT to innovate and transform what do in the classroom. Ultimately we need to use IT creatively in the classroom because we need to engage this generation of “digital natives” on their own territory if we are to educate them.

See previous post: The Challenge of Educating Digital Natives


  1. I agree that the past has been a patchy affair. However, it's reassuring to see more integrated approaches to online learning and the need to meet students head-on with engaging activities that will appeal to them. Here are a few examples.

    Powerup is a good example of an online game that teaches students about the need to be ecologically aware. Find it at:

    Learning Curves, an initiative of the National Archives, offers an excellent History site, that teaches students how to assess the veracity of historical films. It's historiography, doctor, but not as we know it. Have a go at

    SimVentures is a subscription based simulation game for Business Studies students. Find it at:

    These examples are indicators of the ways in which the industry is adapting its offer. The real issue is to what degree can schools find out about these innovations and deploy them successfully?

  2. Valerie Quinnell2 February 2009 at 18:01

    As a parent who works in the information part of the IT industry I have concerns that many of the educational IT offerings have very little genuine impact on educational progress . They may be fun & engage attention but do they genuinely result in consolidated learning & progress. Having had to undertake numerous “e-learning” experiences, on topics as diverse as the ethics of competitive intelligence gathering to computer ergonomics, I have my doubts – even the best of these has had little long-term impact on my subject knowledge!
    Many tasks that require sustained concentration can’t rely on IT, we switch off to information communicated solely by computer in the same way we switch off to someone just talking. However, the use of IT to re-energise & re-capture concentration is very effective. IT packages also offer a great alternative revision technique, in part by offering the short-term break from “reading”, & I’d welcome more opportunities for the children to access such tools via the school Moodle system – the Latin year 7 module that linked to the text book was great!