Labour Peer Warns of IT Literacy Time Bomb

Chairman of the e-Learning Foundation, Lord Mitchell, believes that: “not having IT skills will soon be as serious as not being able to read.” Lord Mitchell was keynote speaker at a seminar held at St Paul’s Catholic College in Burgess Hill on 23 November. The event, which explored the issues around delivering and sustaining a personalised learning environment, was hosted by Syscap, the UK independent IT finance provider.

The seminar, which was attended by representatives from around fifty schools, LEAs, education experts and influencers, heard Lord Mitchell talk on the future of education, and representatives from two schools – Addington High School, Croydon, and St Paul’s Catholic College, Burgess Hill – present their experiences with developing and implementing an e-learning vision. Both schools underlined the importance of equity of access. Delegates were then split into groups for a pupil-guided tour of St Paul’s to witness, and hear first-hand from teachers and students, how technology has revolutionalised teaching and learning at St Paul’s.

When speaking about the issues supporting the use of ICT in education and the need for personalised learning, Lord Mitchell asked: “When looking for work, who are your children going to be competing with? Children in the same class, who live on the same street or from the same town? Possibly, but more likely they will be children from Mumbai, Brazil or California. We live in a very flat and accessible world so we have to ensure that our kids are prepared with the skills they need for the 21st century. There are few jobs that don’t require any IT so people without these skills will become increasingly disadvantaged.”

Speaking on the government’s ICT in education policy, Lord Mitchell said: “Credit must go to Charles Clark. As Secretary of State he took the unusual step of taking on responsibility for ICT in education personally. The Government has made a commitment to support universal access by 2010 and in comparison to other nations, the UK’s take-up has been excellent – only Australia and perhaps the Scandinavian countries are ahead of us.

“Every single child should have access to a device that enables personalised learning,” Lord Mitchell continued. “Teachers and parents need to champion the use of IT, both in school and at home. The concept of ‘9am to 3:30pm learning’ is a thing of the past.”

Syscap’s Learn Anywhere scheme, developed to overcome many of the complexities traditionally involved with choosing, purchasing and implementing an ICT solution for a school or college, is used by hundreds of schools across the UK, including St Paul’s Catholic College and Addington High School. The scheme gives schools the option to spread the cost of technology over its working life, offers them the freedom to choose the best technology from their supplier of choice, features a range of insurance options to minimise risk and manages the administration and collection of parental contributions on the institution’s behalf.

Andy Lowe, Director of e-learning and Assistant Headteacher at St Paul’s Catholic College, comments on the college’s e-learning vision: “We could see that we needed to bridge the gap between the way our students live their lives and the way they learn. It’s not about knowledge, it’s about giving children the skills they need for the workplace and their future lives.” St Paul’s now has interactive whiteboards in every classroom and 700 laptops in use, enabling the college to realise the full potential of a virtual learning environment, where pupils, staff and parents can communicate with each other and share a full range of curriculum-based educational resources both in the classroom and at home.

Announcing the results of a recent Ofsted inspection, Headteacher of St Paul’s Catholic College, John Flower, said: “St Paul’s is delighted to have achieved 36 out of a possible 38 ‘outstanding’ Ofsted gradings. We recognise the use of technology and our encouragement of personalised learning as key contributors to this excellent result.”

Addington High School is a secondary comprehensive in Croydon. With a catchment area that includes some of the most deprived areas of London, the school faces many challenges as it strives to deliver a robust education to every one of its 820 pupils. Despite this, the school has just successfully applied to become a specialist visual and media arts college and a dramatic rise in its GCSE pass rate has made it London’s second most improved school. In addition, phase two of the New Addington OnLine project has just been completed, putting 150 affordable laptops into the hands of pupils and their families. Project manager and teacher Rufus Sanders, said: “Access to information through the Internet is now a right rather than a privilege, and bridging the digital divide is one of the biggest challenges not just for the education system but for the UK as a whole.”