Tony Blair would do well to get his hands on a report published by the California State University (CSU) at Northridge which shows the Internet to be a first class environment for learning.
The report suggests that students learning in a virtual classroom on the Internet scored approximately 20% higher than their peers in traditional classrooms. The pupils were picked at random by Professor Jerald Schutte of CSU who divided his class into two groups. One group was taught in a traditional classroom, complete with paper planes, bullying, peer pressure, you know the sort of thing. The other group was taught using Email, newsgroups, and live chats with none of the pressures of inhabiting a room full of noisy classmates.
Schutte said the children formed their own "virtual peer groups" and communicated using discussion boards and live chat. He went on to suggest that the improved results from the "virtual group" may have been due to the inhibitions a child may feel in a physical classroom. He said: "A child may feel like s/he is the only one who doesn't understand something, so they don't talk. That leaves a gap in communication which doesn't happen in a virtual scenario."
To prove his point Schutte pointed to the report's finding which suggests people studying in a virtual classroom are nearly 50% more likely to collaborate with classmates than those in a traditional class.
So, will the Internet play a role in our children's education in the future? Well, probably not for a while. Schutte believes the Internet has many limits and may not appeal to all children in all situations.
This is view shared by Robin Hurst, deputy headmaster at Compton School in London. He said: "Not all children enjoy computers, and many find them incredibly dull. Besides, on our budget there's no way we could provide a computer for most, let alone all, our children."
Even if the Net is proven to boost learning, cash-strapped schools would be hard-pushed to cope. If an on-line schooling community was given the go ahead in the UK, the options for those who cannot afford the luxury of a home PC would become immediately apparent. Even if the machines were based within schools, budgets would have to sky rocket to support the brigade of on-line pupils battling to surf the Web (and not always to research their history projects).
The Labour party, always willing to talk about the state of education in the UK, stated: "The Internet is an integral part of Labour's education plan, but of course it would be impossible to have a computer for every single child. What is important is that every child is given adequate training so that they understand the technology. This is also true of the teachers who need to understand what this technology offers." And the advantages of the Internet as a teaching tool are only beginning to make themselves apparent: last year a report published in The Guardian showed that "disaffected young boys," are usually 10% to 15% behind their female counterparts, but when they are exposed to Internet technology the "gap closes dramatically".
I'm not sure I'd go along with the percentages here, but it sounds like a good excuse to get on-line to me.
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