Becta.. Capita... other things ending in 'a'.. (and 'o', and 'net' etc.) - Part 2
My attention was also drawn to a few other compelling and very useful blog posts: this at Renegade Parent, some of whose clarity - let alone sweet charity - I could do with right now, this absolute blinder from Devil's Kitchen, which has been flagged up on one of the home ed lists. Another Devil's Kitchen post was mentioned by Lisa in hers, and by Danae yesterday in her Power to the oppressed, in which she points out the blatant contradiction in the government's response to our e.petition (also expertly dissected by Carlotta here, Lisa here, Firebird here and by the Facebook group here): The review of home education does not threaten a parent’s right to educate their child at home, but the removal of Income Support to lone parents certainly does, creating a two-tier system of those who can and those who can't afford to keep their children at home.
Danae based her post on a book by Paulo Freire, called Pedagogy of the Oppressed and included the following invaluable quote:
Any situation in which 'A' objectively exploits 'B' or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual's ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.
Definitely words worth pondering.
Back to the subject in hand, though: climbing this mountain called finding out more about these groups of people who would, it seems by the definition above, seek to oppress us.
After my post on Sunday, Tracey kindly supplied a link to Becta's REPORT AND FINANCIAL STATEMENTS for the year ended 31 March 2008 [opens pdf], through which I've been ploughing, on and off, ever since. The section on page 5 about risks to the organisation, for example, is very interesting:
Key risks for 2007-8 included:
• Becta could fail to convince Ofsted and other inspection bodies to change criteria to take sufficient note of technology.
• National attitudes to technology in education are damaged by a serious incident relating to the safety and protection of children, arising from misuse of the Internet within the education system.
• Becta’s pension’s deficit continues to affect Becta’s financial position. However, any future liability will be covered through future Grant-in-Aid payments to Becta which under normal conventions applying to parliamentary control over expenditure cannot be made in advance of need.
• Risk that Becta’s campaign fails to convince wider community (e.g. parents, employers) and users of the system (e.g. learners, front-line staff) sufficiently to drive demand for better ICT from the supply side.
• Risk that local and regional bodies do not have the capacity and capability to support the changes needed for Becta’s strategic objectives
Seriously, their pension deficit is number three concern. Says it all, really, doesn't it? Second in the list is Internet safety, which many of us suspect is government speak for a prelude to legal restrictions in that area, of the frog-boiling variety.
Parents and children are down there at number four, in case we can't be convinced by the increasingly prolific advertising campaigns, which I find suspicious in themselves. Since when did most of us need to be persuaded to use ICT, and why do we have to be now? Very strange.
The fifth risk refers to Becta's 'strategic objective' which seems to refer to the contents of this letter [opens pdf] from the secretary of state for education, to the Becta chairman, which in turn makes reference to the government's e-Strategy [opens pdf], which makes me feel like dying of boredom. No, come on, we can make it up this mountain - eventually.
We aim to put learners, young people – and their parents – in the driving seat, shaping the opportunities open to all learners to fit around their particular needs and preferences.
Why not just let them stay at home with a computer, then? Seriously, it's the main thing I've done for my three older children, and they've achieved amazing things with the opportunity.
We want to extend the variety of places where people can learn.
The Internet isn't enough?
I am particularly excited by the idea of giving every student and learner a personal online learning space where they can store their own course materials and assignments in digital form, and record their achievements.
Wow. Like.. a hard drive?? Or even, if you wanted to keep in online.. a blog? (Actually I hear there are courses now offering to teach people how to set up blogs. 'Cos it's so complicated.. )
Borrowing ideas from the world of interactive games,we can motivate even reluctant learners to practice complex skills and achieve much more than they would through traditional means.
You could just let them play games - or do whatever else they are motivated to do.
It is our goal to work towards ICT as a universal utility, creating more flexible learning opportunities for everyone.
Hey, I can show you some flexible learning opportunities!
These four objectives make things a little clearer I think:
A strategic approach to ICT
That is why we need a more strategic approach to the future development of ICT in education, skills and children’s services. By doing so,we believe we can:
- Transform teaching, learning and help to improve outcomes for children and young people, through shared ideas, more exciting lessons and online help for professionals
- Engage ‘hard to reach’ learners, with special needs support, more motivating ways of learning, and more choice about how and where to learn
- Build an open accessible system, with more information and services online for parents and carers, children, young people, adult learners and employers; and more cross-organisation collaboration to improve personalised support and choice
- Achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness, with online research, access to shared ideas and lessons plans, improved systems and processes in children’s services, shared procurement and easier administration.
OK, I kind of get why the government wants to do this. It was being left behind in the ICT revolution and was losing control and credibility in the field of education. It urgently needs to catch up, to retain its position as the main education provider and to regain some control. This strategic approach seems to me to be as much about setting boundaries and claiming virtual space as it is about helping and empowering people. If not more.
But actually, as Lisa says,
Fruitful, long-term online engagement [with ICT] is utterly reliant on those very human values of curiosity, authenticity, collaboration, generosity, community - all necessarily underpinned by individual freedom and choice.
This is evidenced by my six year-old, who has just come to give me a hug as I asked her what she'd been up to in the past hour since I last saw her. "Oh, just watching Barbie again" was her casual response. "In Hungarian, this time."
Back to Harnessing Technology, page five lists 6 priorities:
we have identified six priorities, to provide:
- An integrated online information service for all citizens
- Integrated online personal support for children and learners
- A collaborative approach to personalised learning activities
- A good quality ICT training and support package for practitioners
- A leadership and development package for organisational capability in ICT
- A common digital infrastructure to support transformation and reform.
All so prioritised, all so apparently necessary. So why, then, does it fill me with a deep sense of both tedium and unease?
And back to the ministerial letter. Sorry, I'm skipping between them to try and stay awake.
Becta should develop a powerful voice in policy development and I want you to ensure that all policy-makers are aware of the opportunities and risks that technology brings. Working with all areas of my Department, Becta must ensure that technology is woven appropriately into education policy development , advising, challenging and supporting policy makers with secure and timely evidence, at the early stages, on policy thinking and development. In this work, it is vital that you present the authentic voice of the learner, practitioner, and supplier.
I suppose the question is: can Graham Badman successfully wear two very different hats, or is his remit at Becta going to impinge on his review recommendations? Is it supposed to impinge on them?
But I think this paragraph from Harnessing Technology partly sums up what it is that I find so deeply unsettling about this whole agenda:
9.The technology offers more than access to information. Because it can store personal data securely, it enables public services to offer more integrated support to children and learners. With children’s services becoming more focussed on outcomes, ICT can assist them in meeting the needs of the children, families, young people, and adults with whom they work. The effectiveness of those working in children’s centres, schools, social care, health, youth services or other front line services can be improved by integrated administrative processes, as well as better information and training.
Except that it can't store personal data securely, can it?
That's all for now, though I do still intend to look into the origins of the National Council for Educational Technology, and we still haven't even started on Capita yet.