Jumat, 02 Maret 2012

0 PLUGGING IN TO EDUCATION

PLUGGING IN TO EDUCATION
As we have implied, information and communication technologies play
a particularly important role in this situation. Technology, we are often
told, is reconfiguring social institutions and relationships. It is blurring
the boundaries between homes, schools and workplaces, and between
parents, teachers and students. It is reconfiguring social spaces, altering
our sense of time and place, and redefining what counts as knowledge
and learning. Yet, given such developments, it is clearly simplistic to
account for them in terms of technology alone. New information and
communication technologies have emerged from an ongoing process of
scientific development that possesses its own dynamic; and yet, like earlier
technologies, they cannot be seen in isolation from broader social and
economic forces (Webster 1995; Dutton 1996).
The increasing penetration by ICTs into all areas of social life—not
least education—is driven largely by capitalism’s relentless search for
new markets. The internet is now largely a commercial medium that is
used for commercial purposes. Although the market is still far from
saturated, planned obsolescence has become a key factor in the
accelerating introduction of new products and services; while the rise of
‘e-commerce’ suggests that these technologies are themselves becoming
crucial to the operation of contemporary markets in general. Meanwhile,
there is a growing economic convergence between technologies, in which
‘old’ and ‘new’ media, as well as production and distribution, have become
more and more integrated. In the age of AOL Time Warner, cultural
production is increasingly characterised by what the critic Marsha Kinder
(1991) called ‘transmedia intertextuality’, and driven by the logic of
merchandising and commodification.
However, the effects of technology cannot be isolated from the ways
in which it is used, and the wants and needs that it claims to satisfy.
Different social groups have different degrees of access to technology,
and use it in different ways; and while some inequalities may be
disappearing here, others are becoming ever more powerfully inscribed.
Thus, research suggests that there is a growing polarisation between the
technology rich and the technology poor; and that girls still have less
access to computers in the home than do boys. At the same time, access
to technology is not a matter just of disposable income, but also of cultural
values. Children from middle-class families with relatively traditional
attitudes are less likely to use computers than are those from workingclass
families who are more ‘modern’ in their outlook; while, in general,
girls may be more inclined than boys to use computers for communication
(via e-mail, for example) than for playing games or using other software
(Livingstone and Bovill 1999).
More broadly, one can argue that the meaning of technology is subject
to an ongoing process of social negotiation. Computers are not merely
‘consumables’ like many other products. They are also symbolic goods
that serve as markers of social distinction (Cawson et al. 1995). Among
other things, they are seen to represent modernity, intellectual superiority
and freedom from constraint. From being the preserve of geeks and nerds,
they are now increasingly represented as the epitome of cool sophistication.
Here, again, education plays a crucial symbolic role. Investing in computers
is, so parents are told, a way of investing in your children’s future.
Computers give children access to worlds of knowledge that would
otherwise be denied to them; and, so it is argued, they put children
themselves in control of their own learning. Education and parenting
without technology thereby become at least conservative, if not downright
reactionary. It is the fundamental responsibility of good parents and teachers
to ‘catch up’ with the children who are in their charge—although there is
considerable room for debate about whether the promises here are actually
fulfilled (Giacquinta et al. 1993; Sefton-Green and Buckingham 1996).
MARKETING DISCOURSE
The three areas we have briefly outlined here are in some respects mutually
reinforcing. To some extent, each of them is characterised by a blurring
of boundaries—between teachers and parents, schools and homes,
education and entertainment, learning and leisure, public and private.
As we have indicated, the implementation of digital technologies in
education is driven largely by powerful economic and political forces;
though that is not to say that the consequences of this development, and
the ways in which technology is actually used, can necessarily be predicted
or guaranteed.
In the following sections of this chapter, we analyse some of the
discourses that are currently used to promote and legitimate these
developments. Rather than looking at policy documents or handbooks
for teachers, we consider some particular instances of marketing discourse
aimed both at teachers and at parents. We believe this is an important
focus of study, not least because it is this material that plays such a vital
role in purchasing decisions. The role of commercial interests in this field
is such that, in our view, there are few truly independent critical sources
of information and advice for potential purchasers.
We look first at an event known as the BETT Show, an exhibition of
educational resources for schools held annually in London, and then at
some more diverse instances of marketing material aimed at parents. We
do not claim as yet to have undertaken an exhaustive analysis of such
material. We are merely offering a few symptomatic instances that might
inform the more extensive and comprehensive analysis that, in our view,
urgently needs to be undertaken.1
We would contend that the examples we have chosen represent part
of a broader educational-technological complex. While not quite as
conspiratorial as the military-industrial one, this complex represents
an alliance between groups of quite different kinds—academics,
journalists, educationalists, advertisers and commercial corporations.
It is a complex that, in the UK, would include a number of high-profile
university departments and research centres, weekly publications like
the Times Educational Supplement and Guardian Online, and groups
of teacher advisers and teacher trainers, as well as companies like
Microsoft, Apple, ICL, the BBC, Dorling Kindersley, TAG, British
Telecom and others. This is, by definition, a group of individuals and
organisations that combines public and private interests. Yet while the
discourses we analyse here are those of advertisers and marketers, we
contend that they may not, in the end, be vastly different from those of
the other groups we have mentioned here.

Selling technology to teachers: the BETT Show
The BETT (British Education, Training and Technology) Show is a large
educational trade fair held annually in London. It provides a symptomatic
example of the ways in which teachers are now targeted as consumers of
technology within the education marketplace. In many ways, BETT is a
prime example of the educational-technological complex in action, and of
its distinctive combination of public and private interests. It is organised by
EMAP Education (part of EMAP Business Communications, a publishing
group) and sponsored by BESA (the British Educational Suppliers’
Association) and the magazine Educational Computing and Technology, in
association with the Times Educational Supplement, the Department for
Education and Employment and Educational Exhibitions Limited.
BESA is the trade association for the educational supply industry and
has a membership of over 220 manufacturers and distributors. These
companies produce a range of products, including ICT hardware and
software, teaching aids, furniture and other materials designed for use in
educational settings ranging from pre-school to university level. The
combined annual turnover in this sector is estimated at over £600 million
(http://www.besanet.org.uk).
When it was founded in 1933, BESA’s primary function was the
organisation of regional exhibitions designed to keep teachers up-to-date
with new developments in classroom resources. Its remit has broadened
over time, with changes in government policy during the 1980s and 1990s
playing an important role in its development. Of particular significance
here was the introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS) as
part of the Education Reform Act of 1988. Prior to this, most purchasing
decisions in education were taken by local education authorities (LEAs).
By virtue of their large budgets, the LEAs wielded a significant degree of
power in negotiating with potential providers of products and services,
although from the point of view of many schools they were often
unnecessarily bureaucratic. LMS passed much of the control over
purchasing decisions to individual schools; and, in the process, teachers
became a significant new consumer market.
Seeing this opportunity, BESA responded by introducing the Education
Show (a forerunner of BETT) and a code of practice designed ‘to give
confidence to schools that they would be satisfied with any product or
service bought from a BESA member’. Enthusiasm for ICT and the
resulting increase in funding has massively expanded the market for
hardware and software. This in turn has boosted BESA’s role as the
industry’s representative and mediator between public and private sectors.
This business-led ‘partnership’ between industry and education is
something that BESA emphasises in its literature and press releases. As
the chief executive explained:
The interdependency which is occurring between schools, commercial
suppliers and their local support structure is the way forward for
ICT in education and the consortium approach is to be welcomed
where individual contributions are on the basis of specialist knowledge
in a particular area. Whether to provide training for teachers or
curriculum content, opportunities for partnerships exist and BESA is
here to help.
(Press release 18 November 1998: BESA website)
The BETT Show is seen as a key element of this new relationship between
public and private interests. According to the Official Show Guide, it
‘demonstrates the partnership between the educational ICT industry and
education itself.
The BETT Show exhibits ICT resources, as well as running a series of
seminars, awards events and training for teachers. According to the BETT
Newsletter, almost one-third of UK schools sends teachers to the show
each year. The organisers promote the show through information sent to
schools and through more practical means, such as arranging transport.
One example of how big this event has become is that in January 2000
BESA and Birmingham LEA chartered a train (dubbed the ‘Education
Express’) with the dual objective of providing transport to the show and
ICT training on board.

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