Technology is on the increase as a valuable teaching resource in schools. Over the past 20 years a significant portion of educational budgets have been invested in electronic teaching support from educational games to interactive whiteboards.
But this technological approach has risks. Advances in design and performance can make equipment outmoded within a year and it does not come cheap. Compared to the lifetime of say a textbook or educational board game that can be up to 10 years, limited primarily by its physical structure, technology has become an almost disposable option. Yet therein lies a conundrum.
The ultimate role of teaching resources in school is foremost to prepare children for adult life. The national curriculum may set the agenda but the school has the responsibility to turn this into a practical scenario. If the information and communications technology (ICT ) equipment is to educate children in the efficiencies of technology the latest model becomes a necessity. Good news for the equipment supplier who has designed an element of planned obsolescence. It is in their interest to inject a step change in the design to encourage purchase and replacement. Inevitably if they don’t a competitor will. All this is bad news for educational budgets.
The BBC computer of 20 years ago was a marvel in its day but has long since occupied a place as a museum piece. A relic of bygone days massively superseded by current equipment that operates several quantum leaps ahead. The problem gets worse as the pace of change accelerates. Children are also becoming increasingly aware of the brand image of the equipment. Research Machines (RM) once leader in the field of networks and PC’s in schools are suffering from a cocktail of technology advances, cancelled educational schemes and budgets reviews. But their largest competitor perhaps comes from brand image and performance. Promotional pressure and product placement in television and films have elevated the Mac to be a must have item. Many schools opting for Apple Mac are benefiting from price support from Apple who see a marvellous opportunity to influence their future customers.
The mix of commercial, technological and brand pressure is immense. Schools are caught in a maelstrom of meeting academic and financial targets. Many ICT teachers are inevitably playing games between equipment that meets the demands of the curriculum versus the state of the art computers needed to maintain interest from the technical savvy classroom. Hidden in the equation is whether they overtake the capability of their educational games software to operate on the latest PC and operating system.
A hidden factor is the volume of software sales. The advent of the virtual learning environment (VLE), which centralises educational software for a number of schools and academies, has dramatically reduced the unit sales of software. Previously schools bought software direct. Now a universal license replaces the individual sales. A positive move for the schools who integrate the software which also allows the teacher to centrally track the performance of the student. But many educational games software titles are starting to disappear. The reduced volume has meant the creation and production costs are prohibitively expensive compared the sales volume potential. Teachers and commercial operations with that great idea have to find a viable volume to get it off the ground. Therein lies a danger. The only companies to afford the level of investment are the big players. Apple, Microsoft et al. could steal the market totally which could have dire consequences. A Trojan horse no doubt.