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Unlikely Stories, Mostly?

September 6, 2006

I love the whole concept of GLOW. I think it will be a watershed in the way educators deliver learning, and I’m really excited that it is happening around me… as Alasdair Gray said in his Unlikely Stories, Mostly:

Work as if you were in the early days of a better nation…

So it is with Scottish Education at the moment. We are about to embark on the first stages of creating a new, better digital nation for Scottish schoolchildren, and I hope we are going to get it right. I hope that we have the vision, the wherewithal and the backing to make it happen, but I also hope we have the willingness to make sure that every Scottish pupil has access to the potential… because I fear we could be about to cause even greater divisions between the haves and the have-nots. Here’s why…

In the GLOW video, we are shown an absent pupil sitting at home working on her (wireless?) laptop. Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m too ill to go into my work, I’m certainly too ill to be working at home… but that is not what really bothers me. What I find really surprising is the assumption being made that pupils will have a laptop and wireless router at home to allow them to work in their beds… there is also the implication that all pupils should have broadband access at home… unfortunately, this is not yet the case. In fact, according to National Statistics Online, Scotland has the lowest level of internet access in the UK at only 48% (Stats published 23/08/06), and that’s ALL access, not just broadband.

So, what does this mean for GLOW? Or, more accurately, what does this mean for the 52% of the Scottish population without internet access? I know that GLOW is primarily designed to be used in school and to enable Scottish teachers to tap into the most amazing bank of resources and to engender creative uses for online delivery of content… but there is still a small part of me that worries that it will just be seen as something for the well-off kids. Those who don’t have internet access at home might be tempted to switch off because they are seeing something they feel they can’t become involved with, something that isn’t ‘for’ them…

I hope not… I really do hope that GLOW can fulfill its potential and be the stunning innovation that it promises to be. But I also fear that it may need careful monitoring to make sure that it is truly accessible to all…

What do you think – am I being unnecessarily pessimistic, or do you think we can actually use GLOW to bridge the divide rather than widening it?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. soutra permalink
    September 6, 2006 11:37 pm


    Gray’s quote is a brilliant way to look at this. I will reply more fully tomorrow, but I would ask you not to confuse an illustration of a potential with hard assumptions that are being made – there is a difference. The digital divide is, amongst other ways of looking at it, fundamentally an economic/social/political issue, and the introduction of any technology , least of all Glow, simply cannot be the means of dealing with it. I will definitely follow this up tomorrow – thanks for the opportunity. John Connell

  2. John Connell permalink
    September 7, 2006 6:15 pm

    The corrected quote from Gray is even better, Neil – it chimes for me with recent talk of a ‘new enlightenment’ for Scotland. The cynics can have a field day with stuff like this, but I like the sense of optimism in the idea.

    As for whether you are being pessimistic or not in terms of your thoughts on the digital divide, it is only right and proper that we concern ourselves with the ‘right’ of access for everyone to the sources of information and to the social potential that the web is offering us. I do see this as a right today, and any thought of enlightenment, new or otherwise, simply will not be achievable without some levelling-up of the kinds of figures you quote.

    The point I was making in my initial comment was that it would be unfair, I believe, to expect a project such as Glow to deal with this fundamentally social, political and economic issue. The digital divide, unlike the economic and social divides that still exist, is not simply about relative wealth and the distribution of opportunity, but these questions do still lie at the very heart of the problem. Those who do not currently have access at home to the internet, for instance, will – we can be sure – largely reflect the economic divide in our country!

    It would be unrealistic, in my humble opinion, to hold back change and progress because of the digital divide – but it is definitely not unrealistic to expect our democracy to deal with such critical issues while we do make progress in these areas.

    Just as Carnegie and others saw the need in the past to democratise our access to knowledge through the free library system, I think it is incumbent on our political system to take on the modern equivalent of that process, namely by establishing such access as a basic right in a free society through universal access and cheap connectivity.

    Glow, of course, cannot hope to meet these challenges alone – it is simply not possible – but it can act as one driver amongst many for change, as a mechanism that can show how important it is to open up the Web and ICT generally to everyone. If we can do it in the schools, then it might help prod those who take the basic political decisions to do it across society.

    Finally – on the ill child in the video – it’s really meant just as an illustration of something that is possible in principle. Not every child stuck at home will be too ill to take part in the work of their class via Glow. Nor for that matter is what is illustrated here only pertinent to what happens during the school day, I suppose. As I’ve said elsewhere, the last thing the video should be seen as is as a training video – it is merely a light-hearted introduction to some of the core ideas behind Glow, and definitely not to be taken too seriously! The real training materials will be produced further down the line.

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