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Do we really share a vision?

June 23rd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

As I guess most of you will know the UK has a new right wing coalition government. As always, being a new government, they have announced a raft of new policy measures including in education. the major tenet of the government policy is to use the financial crisis to impose wide ranging cuts on public services. In the education area, early policy announcements have included allowing schools to opt out of local government control (and the introduction of private sponsorship), cuts  in funding of university places (and strongly rumoured rises in tuition costs), a two year freeze on pay rises, cuts to free school meals and the abolition of the British Education Communication and Technology Agency (Becta).

I think it would be fair to say few of these measures have found favour with educationalists! But how should we react to these policies. especially given that the government is only two or so months old? Perhaps I am old fashioned but I think the only answer is to build a broad alliance to oppose government policies. So I am a little bemused by the following letter, available on the NAACE web site,  signed by a broad coalition of organisations involved in Technology Enhanced Education seeking to enter a dialogue with government education minister Michael Gove:

At a meeting on 4 June 2010 Naace, the ICT Association, brought together leaders from key organisations from across the education system to discuss the future of Information Communication Technology in Education.

Agreement was reached on a joint vision statement. We now circulate this to you and other interested parties. We seek assurances from you that the new government recognises the importance of ICT to learning, to learners, to management, and to the overall success of the whole education system.

The freedoms promised to schools, colleges and beyond by the coalition government provide new opportunities for teachers, lecturers and learners to make the best possible use of ICT to support, enrich and extend learning across and beyond the curriculum, thereby improving achievement, enabling personalisation and ensuring employability.

Responsibility for leadership in this field must be shared between schools, colleges, providers of adult learning, local authorities, industry, and government. If we work together, through membership organisations, subject associations and looser networks and communities of educationalists, technologists and policy makers, we can provide the mutual support and challenge that will be needed if the learners in our charge are to continue to benefit.

When used well and managed wisely, ICT is a powerful tool to ensure that:

  • curriculum and pedagogy stay relevant to an increasingly digital world and economy;
  • all learners are included, protected, and empowered;
  • teachers and lecturers have efficient, effective and economic access to digital resources, together with the tools to create and deploy these resources themselves.

The education system is ripe for the development of new models that:

  • maximise the return in learner achievement from investment in ICT;
  • support effective pedagogy;
  • provide an evidence‐base to inform decision‐making;
  • enable efficient procurement of software, hardware, infrastructure, and services through improved market competition and collaborative purchasing;
  • assure the quality and independence from commercial or ideological bias of support available for those in leadership roles.

The success of the country depends on the long term strength of the economy and for this, fluency in ICT matters as much as does competence in English and Mathematics. In short, a digitally literate and digitally creative workforce is of vital importance to every citizen, and achieving this demands an entitlement to the best possible use of ICT in education – by learners, by schools, colleges and institutions, and by educational leaders.

We look forward to confirmation that the newly elected government shares our vision for ICT in education, and we look forward to working with government on putting the vision into practice.

Most of the statement seems fairly innocuous although I am not sure it amounts to a ‘vision’. And although I know we have got used to justifying projects in terms of economic goals, I am not happy with phrases like “the success of the country depends…” to say nothing of the statement recognising the opportunities of the freedoms (read cutbacks and privatisation).

I also see the need for dialogue if we are to even defend the present education system let alone provide increased learning opportunities. But to me the real subtext is – we know you are going to make cutbacks but please don’t cut our part of the system. And that is not a constructive dialogue at all.

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