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Wired Education

by james hörner

In April [1998] the government [Ministry of Education] announced it would invest $123 million over six years to hook up B.C.'s 1,700 public schools and 22 post-secondary institutions to PLNet, a telecommunications network that provides access to the Internet, teaching support materials, and advanced forms of distance learning such as video conferencing
from Provincial Learning Network (PLNet) website

Here is their list of things PLNet will do for B.C.:

  • supports the goal of equitable access to educational programs and information resources
  • increases cost-effectiveness through economies of scale
  • supports current and future innovation in educational delivery
  • enables the exchange of administrative information by providing secure data communications services.

In a PLNet press release, Premier Glen Clark. "We’re committed to providing the technology needed to equip students for the world of work, because the more options we give students at school, the more possibilities we give them as adults in the workforce."


Don't we all remember hearing as kids that we might one day be taught by computers?

 

"PLNet is about providing universal and affordable Internet access and equity for B.C., and ensuring that high-tech learning is not a privilege afforded only to those who can pay for computer technology," said Paul Ramsey. "PLNet breaks down geographical barriers and brings innovative programs from agencies like NASA to the doorstep of students in communities large and small across B.C."

Another "barrier" to break down that Ramsey has not made public is the possibility of teaching more students with less teachers. Don't we all remember hearing as kids that we might one day be taught by computers? Wouldn't this be the politicians dream? Imagine! No more teachers striking or complaining about large class sizes since there would be no more classrooms. Although this technology is intended to benefit students, it may ultimately hurt them when there is no personal interaction, including assistance and encouragement, from educators.

"Connecting to the PLNet means that technology education in B.C. is a continuum that begins in kindergarten, and continues throughout students’ lives, making them citizens of a global village where anything is possible," said Andrew Petter, Minister of Advanced Education, Training and Technology.

This approach looks to be all cookies and lollipops- too good to be true. The arguments for spending a whole whack of dough on this sytem seem well worth it when you consider the advantages of networked schools. One of the things that isn't mentioned, though, is that the PLNet was implemented after many schools were already "hooked up." Besides connecting the rest of the schools the main expense looks to be long-term maintenance, and the connection of rural schools. It is the big city schools who will most value the internal networking, and it is the rural schools who will most benefit from access to whole new worlds that the internet can bring to them.

All of this focus on physically integrating technology into schools is only the first step. Next we must ensure there is sufficient funding to educate the teachers on how to properly use this new medium. Without properly trained teachers these computers will be of little use.

Connections to all public schools and post secondary institutions are scheduled to be completed by July, 2000. So far 292 sites have been connected.

It doesn't seem many other provinces have such efforts underway (they may, but don't advertise it as desperately as the B.C. government). One other effort to check out is Manitoba's MERLIN.


james hörner is the editor of canadian content
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