Give us a child until the age of seven and we will have it for life.” From personal experience I can tell you the Jesuits are not always right about that; but clearly Microsoft, Research Machines and other computer companies are convinced. Capitalising on the heightened interest in the internet, fierce competition is developing in the schools market. Freebies galore are on offer. For the companies this is a good marketing strategy because it puts them in touch with the next generation of users and the current generation of parents. The educational benefits are undeniable, and the web browser or other software the child uses at school will become the obvious choice at home-then maybe at mummy’s office as well.
But there are snags. An awful lot of the existing hardware in schools cannot run web browser software. This means that a lot of money needs to be spent acquiring machines which are up to the task. (Upgrading the existing stock is often not a viable option.) The costs of the telephone calls can be minimised thanks to a brilliant new scheme from BT called Campusworld, or by getting a good deal from the local cable company. But this still leaves the biggest problem of all. In most schools today, the PC is not a tool that a pupil can use as and when needed. With an average of 30 children per class, a child’s access is limited to one hour per fortnight. Kids with computers at home are bound to get a considerable advantage. We need, if not one PC per student, at least something close to that.
A recent Financial Times report noted (apparently approvingly) that Nottingham University had 4,000 computers at the disposal of its 12,000-strong student body. The report claimed every student could have access to eight hours per day on a PC. Well, yes-but only if one third of the student body volunteers to do all its work between, say, 11pm and 7am, and another third agree to clock on at 7am sharp and stay there until 3pm before making way for the late shift….