In my previous post, I outlined the UK Government’s Home Access scheme and how it sought to provide disadvantaged learners with kit and connectivity to enable them to access online resources from home. In this second part, I want to take a brief look at the implications for schools of the Home Access programme.
Unlike the earlier Computers for Pupils (CfP) scheme, schools are not directly involved in purchasing and issuing kit to their learners. In the Home Access scheme, learner’s families or, in some cases, the learner themselves will apply for the Home Access grant and then purchase the kit directly from approved suppliers. So this removes the heavy burden which many schools reported during the previous scheme. Nevertheless, there are implications upon schools of the Home Access programme, even though they may not be as directly involved as before.
First of all, Home Access may well be targeted at Key Stage 2 pupils as well as Key Stage 3; this will bring in Junior age learners in primary and middle schools, unlike the CfP scheme which targeted secondary pupils. So the first implication here is that a far greater number of schools are likely to be affected by the Home access initiative than was the case under the previous scheme, but affected in what ways?
Despite the burden which many secondary schools reported as a result of being involved in CfP, one beneficial outcome which was reported by many is that they felt they gained a greater understanding of their pupils’ home circumstances. This came about as a result of having to survey their pupils to determine which were eligible to receive the kit; many schools felt that this had given them an insight into the home circumstances of those pupils and how this could impact upon their performance in school. Primary schools tend to be smaller than secondaries and have a closer link to homes and families already, so they may feel that such a survey is not necessary, however, a survey often reveals some surprises and this was certainly the case in CfP where more learners than anticipated already had internet access.
There is likely to be a wealth of marketing materials produced by the suppliers of kit for Home Access, however, it is well known that to be fully successful the initiative will need to have the support and backing at Local Authority and school level. Local Authorities and schools are likely to be called upon to provide support and impetus for the programme ; this may involve a simple marketing or ‘heads up’ approach to highlight the existence or benefits of the programme to eligible families, it could also mean holding support events to publicise the programme or train the recipients.
With more of its learners having the ability to access online resources from home, each school willneed to ensure that the learners are able to access relevant resources, particularly on its VLE or learning platform. For schools, this means making sure that its learning platform is in place and fully working, it is being used and that all learners have access. Beyond that, it could mean ensuring that the families of learners have access to a school’s VLE because Home access is not just about the learner, it is also about the rest of the family and siblings. When the learner is at school, the kit should remain at home for use by other family members to access online resources including the school’s VLE to check on their child’s performance or attendance and to communicate with the school.
With Home access in place, teaching staff at the school can have more confidence in setting homework tasks requiring the use of ICT. It goes beyond just homework, however, in that all work can include an element of ICT and that all work can be carried out by the learner even when they are not at or cannot attend school. So pupils in hospital, pupils physically excluded and pupils travelling from location to location can all be expected to continue their learning using ICT and Home Access.
One benefit reported by a number of secondary schools in the CfP scheme is that parents often became more and better engaged as a result of receiving the kit. For some parents, it may be difficult to contact the school or be contacted by the school in person or by telephone because of their working hours or other commitments. However, the ability to send and receive emails directly with the school provides a more flexible and workable means of contacting the school, similarly messaging and notices placed on a school’s VLE can mean that important information can be exchanged better.
Similarly, many schools reported that parents felt more inclined to co-operate and engage with the school as a result of having received the kit and connectivity. By being offered the kit, these parents felt that they and their children were being ‘valued’ by the school, accordingly, the parents were more willing with the school in return. Consequently, it could be expected that some schools found better engagement with traditionally hard-to-reach families.
It is important, of course, that these kit and connectivity is not simply doled out to recipients without some training and agreement on its use. Although the parents and learners will sign an agreement on usage of the kit and there will be some e-safety training available, the most effective means is often for schools to provide such training for parents and learners especially when it comes to accessing the school’s learning platform or using ICT to complete course work or homework. So forward-thinking schools will clearly want to be planning and preparing such events.
Of course, one additional factor here is also the teachers’ own confidence and skills in using ICT. Clearly, these are important and are most certainly higher than they were even a few years ago. A teacher who did not use ICT in their lessons or subject area would today be very rare or, possibly teaching an unusual subject. Nevertheless, with the pupils making more demands upon ICT in their learning, there will be a need for all staff to have training and opportunities to increase and improve their ICT skills and to be given both time and opportunity to explore new ways of using ICT in learning.
So, in summary, schools can expect to;
- seek greater understanding of the home circumstances of their learners,
- provide support and promotion of Home Access for all learners,
- provide training for all learners and families in safe use of ICT,
- ensure their learning platforms are robust and effectively used,
- provide training and opportunities for staff devlopment of ICT.
in return, schools can expect;
- greater awareness of learners’ home circumstances as they affect learning,
- more use of ICT among learners,
- better learning from their learners,
- greater parental engagement,
- better use of ICT to support learning
Update August 2010
Well, the new government has announced the closure of the Home Access programme, so much of what I have written above is now of little more than historical interest. I guess some may feel that the digital divide may widen again as a result of the closure of the scheme, only time will tell if that does happen. One positive point to emerge from the CfP programme, though, is that the digital divide appears to be not as wide as we had originally thought, at least not in terms of provision of computers and access among the most disadvantaged learners. However, of course, what is emerging more clearly is that the ‘digital divide’ is much more about usage and skills rather than just physical kit.