ICT in UK Schools: Contents page | Report index


Software

1 It has been widely documented that the software base in the UK is very fragmented (1). Suffice to observe that it is difficult to find any dedicated software back-up for our main examinations in the UK or indeed for most of the curriculum (2).

There are no easy answers to this - or at least none that have come to us! There are two responses which over time will help solve the problem.


2 First and foremost is the need to set up a way for teachers to swap software/know-how/experiences. We have suggested in chapter 5, point 4, above how this might be done. Enabling teachers to exchange, build and improve their own software is probably the single most potent tool available to Government, and the most effective stimulus to the development of educationally satisfactory software.


3 The second route is by stimulating the supply side of the industry to produce more packaged software.

The UK has a long history of software development for learning and a long, albeit fragmented, history of central and local support for that development (3). Our domestic learning software industry is less significant in global market share than it once was although, as is clear from our successful games industry (4) (with its equally long history), we are not short of talent.

Increasingly the National Curriculum has steered our use of software in schools away from curriculum-specific customer-developed applications towards the "office" applications: word processing, databases, spreadsheets etc. This is generally accepted as progress in a useful direction. The pragmatic adoption of "office" software, however, is not enough. For example, all teachers wish to give formative advice and need the opportunity for examining students' drafts of creative work to do this. Generic "office" software offers poor opportunities for such drafting and thus for formative advice and assessments.

However, the history of software development suggests that exploring new possibilities is commercially risky and unattractive to the market although new ideas once proven can be readily adopted. There is a role for Government in supporting innovative software research and development which reflects and supports recognisable models of learning.

This is less easy than it sounds. It is beyond the scope of this inquiry to look at it in detail but we suggest the Government should. In principle there is an argument for Government finding seed money to motivate individual software developers to produce curriculum related software. However to do this of course raises the question of:

The stability of the National Curriculum. It also raises the questions of....

Whether Government should take initiatives (eg. software vouchers - government subsidised vouchers, redeemable only against the purchase of recognised educationally effective software products) to stimulate demand from schools

How the issue of protecting intellectual property can best be resolved.

Assuming Government success in stimulating a greater supply of software, we see a need for some "guide" to help schools identify good, bad and indifferent. This will not be straightforward; but one way in which this could be done would be by setting up some form of...


4 National Award Scheme.

There is considerable doubt in the minds of parents and teachers alike when purchasing software. There is lack of vocabulary to describe it, few trustworthy measures of excellence and uncertainty about of the different ways that software can support learning.

Although it seems a small contribution we propose an independent and high profile awards ceremony, building on already developing practice in this area but with a rich variety of categories. In this way we hope both to flag excellence (while persuading developers to strive for it) and to introduce a vocabulary to everyone concerned. In the way that film awards currently nominate "best supporting actress" or "best screenplay", we suggest that awards might be made for "best primary age reference CD", best use of sound" or "best support for group activity" and in this way cement categories and a vocabulary that teachers and parents will find useful. The Government would need to consider in detail how such an award scheme might best be established and staffed. We would hope that it would become the tradition that a senior Minister should present the awards.

In addition, educationally relevant software packages could receive an endorsement that they meet particular educational standards ie. similar to the "kite marking" system employed for safety standards. The standards could be set to include the criteria laid down in the National Curriculum.


5 Provision of Content

We believe it important that as the contribution that Internet content can make to education increases, so it is important that the content on Internet reflects our own culture. In the US, NASA makes its base research resources widely available; its remit and funding require it. Many UK organisations are in receipt of public funding: we recommend that in the future receipt of public funds above a certain level would carry a requirement to publish material and make it freely available for UK education purposes on the Internet. This might be started as soon as practicable, for example, with all lottery allocations in excess of 250,000, and progress to encompass the galleries, museums, research institutes, theatres and all other recipients of public or lottery funding.


Cross references to McKinsey:
(1) Exhibit 32, (2) Exhibit 33, (3) History of IT in UK schools, (4) Fragmented Software Supply

© The Independent ICT in School Commission 1996/7. All rights reserved. Contents page

heppell.net