What kind of people are benefiting from the new technologies? Is it just the "haves", international business people and academics, who want a stake in computer mobility and connectivity?
There are signs that new technologies may be of real and affordable help to a wider section of the community. The Samaritans' online service is reaching vulnerable young people through a medium they can relate to. The New York homeless who have been given an Internet address have been finding a job within a month. Might it be possible that we are in the midst of a communications revolution for everyone: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, the confident and the insecure, the educated and the uneducated?
The applications for the 1996 Toshiba scholarships provide strong evidence of the broad appeal of computer mobility and online connections. The course, run from London University's Institute of Education, supports teachers who are exploring the potential of new technologies in teaching and learning. As well as workshops, online tutorials and online conferencing with their peers, the winning scholars receive mobile computers with software and Net capacity.
Compared even with 1995, this year's applications showed renewed energy and innovative spirit, undamped by the difficult conditions some inner-city teachers face. Last year many enthusiastic individuals applied; this year more of the applications were institution-backed. From using a computer, teachers and their students have no problem moving on to work with CD-Roms and online.
Hermitage primary school in Tower Hamlets is participating in the European Union's Socrates project on the waterways of Europe. The children are learning to be global citizens in Net links with France, Ghana, the United States, Holland, South Africa, Hong Kong, Greece and Bangladesh. The school's head, Mara Chrystie and her colleagues are convinced that computers develop attitudes that welcome innovation and approach challenges with curiosity, perseverance and optimism.
Janis Kent from Orpington College, Jenny Hathaway from Norton Community School in Cleveland and Veronica Bacon from Tolworth Girls' School and Continuing Education Centre are evangelists for distance and flexible lifelong learning. Mobile computers are an important tool for home-bound adult students. These institutions are also using mobiles to attract people on to courses. Tutors take the computers into the homes of potential learners who have lost confidence. Making electronic contact with lecturers and other students, before meeting them, breaks down some of the barriers to learning for people outside the conventional education system. Women, in particular, benefit from this approach. Most applicants had not had the luxury to observe the learning opportunities of the newest technologies. Gordon James, the exception, presented thought provoking observations about primary children's learning over two years in a quiet Suffolk village, where Wickham Market School has been equipped by BT with advanced systems including videoconferencing.
He is convinced that a teaching revolution is nearing. This revolution is not being led by education theory, but dictated by the need for teachers and children to master a new set of tools. These tools do not dictate what the children will be taught, but increasingly determine how. These tools will increasingly come to affect every aspect of life. It is almost a case of change or drown.
The change offers individuals and learning communities the opportunity to take control of technology, to be critical and competent learners, to have access to limitless knowledge and to global neighbours, to be authors as well as readers, makers as well as consumers; in short, to enhance the quality of life.
MICHAEL BARBER AND CHRISTINA PRESTON
Michael Barber is dean of new initiatives and Christina Preston is director of Project Miranda at the Institute of Education, London University.
* The Toshiba Education Seminar "Making IT Work" takes place on February .
For more information write to Toshiba Seminars, Project Miranda, the Institute of Education, London University, 20 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or http:// www.ioe.ac.uk/temsccp/miranda.html