Government must subsidise rural broadband to support e-learning

A new underclass of IT "have-nots" could be created by a proposed government strategy to revolutionise e-learning, the BCS has...

A new underclass of IT "have-nots" could be created by a proposed government strategy to revolutionise e-learning, the BCS has warned. However, the plan could create job opportunities for IT specialists.

The government's e-learning strategy seeks to exploit IT throughout the school curriculum and across all age-groups. A consultation document on the strategy called for IT to be used in everything from pre-school classes to adult education and in areas such as driving theory tests, with special software aids for people with dyslexia, for example.

The BCS broadly supports the strategy and recognises that e-learning can offer significant benefits, it said.

Among the potential benefits identified in the consultation document were higher attainment, because people would be able to work at their own pace and in private; online guidance and support; a wider choice of subjects to meet individual needs; new ways of motivating people; and individual and private help for adults with their literacy, numeracy and IT skills.

However, the BCS questioned whether some of the strategy's aims could be met because, it said, the gap between people who have access to IT and those who do not is widening.

For example, the consultation document said IT could open more options to people who are geographically isolated, such as in small rural schools, and it could improve access to learning for disadvantaged sections of the community.

But the BCS said access was declining for these people, because of economic, social and cultural factors.

"The government must address the digital divide that is already opening and which will get wider without more broadband subsidies to give greater IT access for rural villages, schools, libraries, industry and commerce," the society said.

However, the e-learning strategy could be good news for IT specialists, teachers and trainers, the BCS said. "The upsurge in e-learning could bring new demand and job opportunities for IT professionals and for teachers and trainers with recognised IT qualifications.

"We are alerting our members to the importance of re-evaluating and further developing their own e-portfolios in readiness for the career opportunities we believe will follow."

BCS chief executive David Clarke said, "As the largest independent IT skills and qualifications body, the BCS is already broadening its range of training and qualification products to offer more job-specific IT courses and certificates.

"For example, the European computer driving licence core IT skills qualification, which has more than one million people registered in the UK, has been enhanced to address IT skill needs in the teaching profession. In addition, our new Equalskills qualification has been created to help the large sector of the population who have never used a computer."

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