Going through my mother’s many papers recently, I discovered this document – a 1984 summary of the computer training that she had introduced to the school in the early 1980s. The remaining pages that can be seen through the thin paper continue with details of the syllabus.
I’m sharing it here, because for me it reminds me of four very important things:
There is actually a long history of computer learning (and the use of digital tech for other types of learning) in schools, going back at least forty years. We should surely have learnt how to do this well in that time, and yet so many initiatives do not learn from the lessons of the past, reinvent the wheel, and make the mistakes that we made beforehand!
My mother taught at that time in a single sex primary school, and I have no doubt (from the messages I have received from those she taught at this time) that the girls she taught gained as good a digital training as any at the time, and probably very much better than most. We need to remember therefore that initiatives to teach girls to use digital tech have also been around for a long time, and yet we still don’t seem to have learnt the lessons well aboout how to do this!
Although my mother was a maths teacher, it is great to see that she was not only teaching the girls to use computers for maths, but also for music and writing, and that she was using quizzes and games in her teaching.
A final striking feature is that even back then she noted that about half of the girls had a computer at home (although I wish I knew whether this meant that it was their own computer or that they had access to a family computer). It remains essential for girls to have easy access to digital tech outside the school environment if they are to be able to use it effectively for their learning.
I hope others find this re-discovery as exciting as I do! The mention of BBC, Spectrum, ZXB1, Vic 20 and Commodore computers brings back so many memories of the early days of using computers in schools (and indeed in universities) at the time.
A young acquaintance from Europe visiting a country many miles away sent me an e-mail saying that she was about to set out on a programme to donate computers to schools, and asking my advice. Such enquiries are hard to answer. On the one hand I want to support such commitment and enthusiasm, but on the other I know just how problematic so many such initiatives have been.
This is how I responded:
There are many initiatives that have been set up to ‘deliver’ computers into schools (and other places), many of which have been unsuccessful. Some of these have used refurbished computers (such as Computer Aid); others have been donated new by NGOs. Invariably, they are ‘given’ by people who know what computers can do – often based on their own experiences – and think that it would be great if less advantaged people could benefit likewise. However, invariably this is not a good use of money and resources. As you can imagine, there is a huge literature on this – but I guess your connectivity may not be that good in terms of wanting to download information!
So, a few key tips are:
begin with the teachers and ensure that everything is led by them, and integrated into what and how they teach.
much better to contribute to expanding an existing successful initiative, rather than starting up something from scratch
don’t try and reinvent the wheel – build on existing experience and good practices
ensure that there is effective electricity and connectivity – as well as the money to pay for it
ensure that any content is in local languages and integrated with the curriculum
ensure that the use of the computers is also about communication and not just content
use of computers in schools is far more than just teaching people to learn how to use office skills – so make sure they are really used for education
try to ensure that the computers are used 24/7 – by for example running adult training courses in the schools out of hours
try to identify how the computers can be used to generate an income, so that the school can then have enough money to buy more and replace the ones that break
ensure that there is technical back up and support, so that if minor things go wrong (like a plug being accidentally pulled out), then people can simply fix it
do not have a printer (it gets very expensive on paper and ink and usually breaks swiftly)
think of using COWS (Computers on Wheels) that can be rolled around from classroom to classroom, rather than having a computer lab
if there are only one or two computers, make sure that they do not finish up (unused) in the head teacher’s office
build usage of the computers around community needs – involving parents, siblings and the wider community – so that everyone can see their worth
if teachers and children have mobile ‘phones, think of building the learning solutions around them, rather than around computers
I wonder how others would have advised my young acquaintance…