Following Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates’ tete a tete with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday at Downing Street about the UK governments National Grid for Learning initiative to link all UK schools and colleges to the internet (CI No 3,262), Microsoft announced an agreement in principle to work with British Telecommunications Plc and RM Plc to set up an online Teacher Resource Centre on the web. The resource center is designed to support the government’s initiative, with the goal of providing a resource for teachers including training, and teaching aids as well as content relevant to the National Curriculum. Between the three companies, they have more than 10,000 school online accounts already, and Microsoft has worked with both British Telecom and RM for some years. Both, for example, have adopted Microsoft’s internet Explorer as their preferred browser. Speaking at Cambridge University, where he visited to give a lecture to technology students after leaving Downing Street, Gates shrugged off accusations that UK children’s education would be dominated by Microsoft. He insisted the beauty of the internet was that it was a totally open system, and no one company could totally influence its direction. The UK’s National Grid is neutral he insisted, dismissing suggestions that it would necessarily be Microsoft software that was used. Any company is encouraged to offer its software and services to the Grid, he said.
Teachers learn new skills
He also said Microsoft’s software simply gave people the tools that will empower them, and he challenged disbelievers to look at how creatively and independently children and students use computers and the internet. He said he did not believe it was unhealthy for children to spend their time using computers and surfing the net, because, he said, studies in the US have shown that most children who do this watch a lot less television, and he believes the interactive nature of the internet is far better for them than passively watching television. Gates admitted that technology is not in itself a substitute for good teaching, and he said the virtual Teacher Resource Centre would help teachers to learn the new skills required to take full advantage of the internet and new technologies in their teaching and lesson plans. UK Secretary of State for Education and Employment David Blunkett said he greatly welcomed the Microsoft, RM and British Telecom initiative. Making a reality of the National Grid for Learning will call for constructive partnerships between government, commercial suppliers and the education service, he said. Details of content to be offered by the Teacher Resource Centre are being discussed in consultation with the main UK teaching unions and education bodies, and it aims to be up and running by next autumn.
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