DfEE opens the classroom door to IT innovation

13 Apr 00
The government has opened the multi-million pound schools' IT market to a wider range of private companies, including Internet developers and film-makers, to try to increase competition and raise educational standards.

14 April 2000

From the summer, multimedia companies will be offered the potentially lucrative chance to submit interactive products for government evaluation.

In return, the Department for Education and Employment will provide its seal of approval for the best products, access to the annual £30m schools' software budget and free development in official classroom pilots.

The government wants the initiative to open up the education sector to the cutting edge of technology. It has already invested £1.5bn in getting 93% of secondary and 62% of primary schools on-line. But web content is still seen as poor, with investment far outstripping software development. The market is also in danger of being dominated by major IT providers such as Microsoft, which have already gained a foothold in schools.

'Our aim is to foster new partnerships between industry, education and museums, galleries, TV archives and libraries,' said Michael Wills, minister for learning and technology. 'We are providing the investment for thorough evaluation that will encourage wider participation and development of new educational technology.'

According to a DfEE spokeswoman, the government has set aside £1m to fund the evaluation scheme. The Coventry-based quango, Becta, which assesses schools' software, is likely to be expanded, as is the pilot project Teem (Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia).

The Local Government Association described the initiative as a 'wholly sensible idea'. John Fowler, deputy head of education, culture and tourism at the LGA, said:

'The government has a duty to promote competition in a market it has already invested around £1.5bn in.' But he warned: 'One company with a good product but at a high price could make a phenomenal amount of money.'

Graham Lane, chair of the LGA's education committee, said he doubted whether the government had the necessary skills to evaluate products adequately. 'Whitehall has an appalling record when it comes to IT,' he said.

Lane said he would prefer partnerships between schools and local industry.


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