Jim Knight – 2008 Speech on ICT in Education

Below is the text of the speech made by Jim Knight on Thursday 3 July 2008 which was pre-recorded on the previous day.

Hi, I’m Jim Knight, Minister for Schools. I had hoped to be here in person, but parliamentary procedure unfortunately prevented me. Sadly the technology for me to vote remotely has not yet been developed. Perhaps that is a good thing…

So my apologies for not attending in person. But at least I can use the technology to appear before you virtually.

If anyone was in any doubt, it is a visual illustration of technological developments and the positive benefits for society: traders can conduct business with anyone from anywhere across the globe, doctors and nurses can diagnose and cure more patients with state of the art machines, and I can be in two places at once.

And it is that society of constant communication and instant information in which our children are growing up.

In the age where a blog is created every second, 90% of UK teenagers have a home computer, a mobile phone and a games console. 1.4 million UK pupils have their own web page.

Now, you don’t have to go to visit an office of a major corporate company to see state of the art technology – the majority of children have got it in their own front rooms.

And classroom learning looks very different compared to 10 years ago – now 97% of schools have got a broadband connection, over half of classrooms have an interactive whiteboard, and the ratio of computers to pupils is 1 to 6, compared to 1 to 19 a decade ago.

We need to harness that natural interest and talent that young people have in ICT, and the almost instinctive ability to pick it up and just start using it, learning from your friends as you go.

And we need to make sure that education both gives them the basic skills, and takes them further, so that the ‘plug and play’ generation of today can turn their skills to the job they want and run with it, adapting to new technology as they go.

Harnessing that talent ought to be easy, given the popularity of technology and its widespread use.

So it is important that we continue to invest in technology in schools, to ensure that all children and young people have access to it to enhance their studies.

But we must also look at access in the home, where a million children still don’t have access to computers and an internet connection.

That means that they don’t have access to the same information, learning materials, and support for homework and private study that other children do.

And they are not exposed to that vital immersion in the technological world that sets children up so well for the world of work.

We must work hard to remove any barrier to learning. To grant fair and equal access. So that all children benefit from a good education.

So it is imperative that we break down the digital divide.

And not just for pupils, but so that parents can become more involved in their child’s learning, access support services online, and perhaps develop their own ICT skills.

Some schools now have a home access scheme in place, so that pupils can borrow equipment for their studies outside school. But still around 15% of homes with children do not have access to a broad-band-connected computer.

That’s why I set up the Home Access Taskforce last year, to explore how every learner can reap the benefits of ICT, and I am currently considering their recommendations.

So that every young person develops the confidence to work independently, gains a deeper understanding by working at their own pace, and becomes more involved in learning through exercises that are interactive, and which show and demonstrate things to pupils rather than just tell them.

Embedding ICT as far as we can – in schools and at home – is absolutely crucial.

That’s why we published our ‘Harnessing Technology’ strategy 3 years ago, to help schools make the most of the potential ICT holds for learning.

But a lot happens in 3 years.

And although we are one of the leading countries in the world for the use of technology in learning, it is essential that we continue to adapt to developments in technology, society, and education practice.

That’s why we asked BECTA – on behalf of the Departments for Children, Schools and Families, and Innovation, Universities and Skills – to update the strategy.

So that every educational institution can harness technology’s potential, every teacher can use it confidently, and every student can explore the digital world of opportunity.

I am delighted to be able to launch that strategy today.

I believe that copies are available for you to take away, and I urge you all to do so. Stephen Crowne – Chief Executive of BECTA – will be speaking to you in more detail in a moment.

Above all, the renewed strategy will clarify the learner’s entitlement to technology, it will help to secure better quality teaching and leadership in this area, and it will secure universal support for family and informal learning.

Technology is no longer optional.

Some are already excelling, such as St Dunstan’s School in Sutton which, today, is the 1,000th school to be awarded the ICT mark.

They are using their ICT resources to support learning across all levels of the National Curriculum, they have professional development in place for staff, and they are extending ICT beyond school for learning, and in communication with parents.

I want to see consistent access and achievement right across the board.

We need to ensure that all children are trained in the basics: using a word processor, managing a database, editing a website.

In this culture of collaboration and co-production, those skills are as relevant – and as vital – as good spelling and grammar.

So we have asked Jim Rose to include ICT as he looks at the primary curriculum, to ensure that younger children get the grounding they need, and so that they have access to all parts of the curriculum through ICT. I look forward to his conclusions.

So that by the time they reach secondary school, they will have the basic skills they need, make a smooth and easy transition, and be ready for a higher level of learning and taking their talents as far as they can.

The new learning options at 14-19 will be a great outlet for that creativity, and an excellent opportunity for young people to take their learning into exciting new areas, such as creative and media.

There’s a real challenge here for teachers to be as creative as they can.

A whiteboard is not just a white blackboard, but a tool for real interactive learning.

And I think we need to face up to the fact that, when it comes to the younger generation and technology, it’s very likely that they know more than we do.

A teacher is the guardian of their subject, not necessarily an expert in technology. Using creative ways to get pupils involved in their subject – and able and willing to discover it for themselves – is the mark of a great teacher.

We can’t predict how technology will develop, but we need to understand and harness the cultures around technology, to make sure that young people get the most from it.

It can feel like a daunting task – preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, to solve problems we can’t even imagine.

But technology is a vast resource, full of potential. So are our pupils. And they are the ones that will come up with the answers, if we give them what they need to get on with the job.

I am looking forward to working with BECTA and our partners to fulfil the vision that we have outlined in the Children’s Plan – and through the updated Harnessing Technology strategy – for every child to have fair and equal access to a good education, so that they can go as far as their talents will take them.

And I also urge you to consult the strategy carefully, and consider what more you can be doing to give young people those opportunities, and to make the most of the resources available to you.

It has been good to talk to you and I wish you every success for today’s conference.

Thank you.