4 September 2012
I was chatting with some people the other day about IT and the various contacts we had made back in the 1980s as a result of what was happening then. I had spent a year in England in 1982-83 and had been astounded to see the extent to which English teachers were using computers. The BBC has put a lot of resource into developing a machine for use in schools. I returned home with the BBC Serial B and, for the kids a Sinclair Spectrum.
At the same time an appointment had been made to the Secondary Teachers College of a “Computing” specialist – radical stuff. The use made of the machines was pretty ordinary. Because you have a plethora of fonts each page in a publication had a plethora of fonts on it. I amazed others by using a computer to print out letters to the marking panels of examinations that I ran and so on. Back in 1993 there had been murmurings of all this IT stuff and what schools were doing.
But it was in 1993 that excitement mounted when the Ministry of Education decided to take a great leap forward. As the financial year was coming to a close there was still $2 million in some “furniture fund” in Wellington. It was decided to have a competition – these days it would be called a “contestable funding round”. Secondary schools were invited to submit proposals for how they would advance IT in the school if they were successful and secured one of four grants of $500,000.
Aorere College, Decile 2, South Auckland, where I was principal at the time, was one of those four lucky schools.
To cut a lot of few long stories short – the first thing the MOE did was to deduct GST from the money when it was paid across – some things are traditions that cannot be broken! The teachers then worked with energy to advance the ideas they had earlier promoted in a more sketchy fashion in the application. The total now required was about $2.8 million.
Clearly there was not enough money so a breakthrough was needed. It came when the staff realised that we would only get there if we based our plans on the needs of the students and if we worked together, across department boundaries, across classrooms, across each of those boundaries that in institutions mark territory won and therefore territory to be defended.
A lot of very good things happened. Some of the issues that are still with us emerged early on. Which platform should we go with? The answer was all three – PC, Apple and that wonderful platform the BBC or “Acorn” as it had become known by then. It was a great pity that this platform disappeared because it was very sound in its appreciation of learning. It had been a wonderful presence in England and I twice visited their headquarters in Cambridge UK, on one occasion to see how they had developed a network across an entire school community. It was a pity that their risc chip was so good that they turned to servicing the global mobile phone industry and moved out of computers!
One big difference between what we tackled back then and what seems to be happening now is that there was a clearer attempt to advance the curriculum through the use of IT rather than have IT become the curriculum. And there was a heavy emphasis placed on the uses of IT in industry and commerce. For instance the engineering department installed CNC technology, Geography used devices for measuring atmospherics and undertook real studies for the local authority, Social Studies had access to the urban planning data of the City Council, Commerce ran the Business Centre at the International Airport – all real world use of learning that still evades so many young peoples’ school experience.
And we had fun, teachers undertook PD in critical IT skills and worked towards getting the “IT Warrant of Fitness” – the mood was buoyant. Has it all got a little too serious? Well, cheer up and just imagine if Dr Seuss had written the computer manual!
If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,
and the bus is interrupted as a very last resort
and the address of the memory makes your floppy disk abort,
then the socket packet pocket has an error to report
If your cursor finds a menu item followed by a dash,
and the double clicking icon puts your window in the trash,
and your data is corrupted ‘cause the index doesn’t hash,
then your situations hopeless and your system’s gonna crash!
If the label on the cable on the table at your house
says the network is connected to the button on your mouse,
but your packets want to tunnel on another protocol
that’s repeatedly rejected by the printer down the hall,
and your screen is all distorted by the side effects of gauss,
so your icons in the window are as wavy as a souse,
then you may as well reboot and go out with a bang,
‘cause as sure as I’m a poet, the sucker’s gonna hang!
When the copy of your floppy’s getting sloppy on the disk
and the microcode instructions cause unnecessary risk,
then you have to flash your memory and you’ll want to
RAM your ROM,
quickly turn off the computer and be sure to tell your mom!
(Author unknown – but I am pretty sure that it was not Dr Seuss!)