The government has failed to provide a national strategy for the use of IT in schools, and has not given school boards the right guidelines or funding for IT purchasing, according to a new report from the Education Review Office.
The report, The Use of Information Technology in Schools, says that many school boards “lack information technology skills and knowledge and are unsure where they should turn for technical advice”.
With boards facing other budget demands, the “perceived complexity” of IT “may make it difficult to proceed with a decision to invest in equipment,” the report says. In addition, “the respective roles of the government and and boards of trustees in planning for the introduction and use of information technology in schools have not been clearly defined,” the report says. “There are strong arguments for the government to provide more strategic leadership in this area than it does currently.”
The ERO recommends “as a matter of priority” that the government provides guidelines which “translate the high-level statements in curriculum documents into specific operation objectives for schools”.
On the plus side, the report notes that access to IT equipment in schools is increasing, to a level of one computer for every eight students in secondary schools, with Web use in the same schools jumping “dramatically” from 19% in 1995 to 63% by the end of 1996.
But many of the computers in schools are relatively old, with half more than three years old, and the growth in access has failed to reach the optimum levels defined by the government in its own report, Education for the 21st Century.
The report also dispels fears that wealthier schools with better fund-raising abilities are increasing rather than reducing the gap between IT “haves and have-nots”.
Access to information technology is determined more by the knowledge and motivation of boards and professional staff than by a school’s socio-economic backdrop, it says.
The ERO identifies support and training as vital influences on the uptake of IT in schools, and urges the government to “ensure that funding for teacher training keeps pace with funding for equipment.”