Small fingers work the keyboard as a Grade 3 student taps into the Internet to try and find information on the World Wide Web about dinosaurs.
This is happening in many classrooms across B.C. Dinosaurs may be extinct, but B.C.'s NDP government, riding a wave of techno-babble and pre-election educational "improvements" has announced there will be one computer for every three secondary students and one computer for every six elementary students.
Late last month, Education Minister Art Charbonneau announced the $100 million five-year technology plan for B.C. schools that will have every one of the 75 school districts in the province develop three year technology plans.
In the meantime, parents, students, community supporters and school officials are trying their best to plan what to do with the computer lab at Myrtle Philip Community School. The lab was privately funded four years ago with money raised through the annual Festival of Lights and was intended to be for the use of students during the day and the community in the evenings. Since then the $45,000 lab has come under fire from community users because of access conflicts, software inadequacies and a lack of technical support.
"The lab was no good to anyone while it was down," says Bill Barratt, municipal director of Parks and Recreation. The Parks and Recreation Department used to offer computer courses in the lab, but that will not continue as a private company, Squamish-based Bandylan Computer Services, is now offering similar courses.
The computer lab at Myrtle Philip Community School contains 28 IBM 386 SX computers networked using Novell software. The crux of the system problems seem to be the inadequacies of the network set-up and software. There are also two multimedia computers in the library and a few on teachers' desks in classrooms. Myrtle Philip is home to over 400 students — meaning one computer for every 11 students.
Many districts in the province are now taking 1.5 per cent off the top of their gross budgets and putting that into a technology fund. This is not happening in the Howe Sound School district, but if it did, 1.5 per cent of the district's $26 million budget would allocate over $450,000 to technological improvements. With 12 schools, stretching from Squamish to D'Arcy, the cost of purchasing and technically supporting the computer hardware the NDP wants to put in classrooms is going to cost a lot more than planned.
Although the provincial government is making commitments that will bring education into the future — which is now — local school administrators and board officials wonder if the money is going to be enough. Innovative corporate partnership programs are being explored to insure local schools keep up with the changing pace of technology.
Myrtle Philip principal Mike Edwards says they are "meeting or exceeding" the local school district's requirements for computer teaching, but there is room to grow.
"There are things we would like to do, like accessing the Community Learning Network, multimedia and more classroom computer access," he says. "If we want the students to use the computers as tools they have to be in classrooms." The Community Learning Network is a part of the Internet operated by the provincial government that allows access to libraries and other information.
Plans are in the works to upgrade the existing 386 computers and move them into the classrooms, Edwards says. For the computer system to work well, the school needs to have a network manager on hand for hardware and software support.
"We had the machines, we had the network, but we never had a network manager," Edwards says, adding if the province wants kids to learn on computers funding has to be provided to district coffers for technical support to keep the computers running.
He says the technology changes so fast waiting to find the right system and study it might cause problems, because by the time the computers actually arrive in the classrooms they are "antiquated."
Local school board trustee Laurie Vance says the school board is working on a technology plan that will be brought to the board table for the July meeting.
"We haven't been sitting around waiting for technology to pass us, we are planning for the future all the time," Vance says, pointing to a district computer advisory committee as an example of business, educators and community representatives working together to implement technology into the classroom.