Sunday, 27 May 2012

Tablets for Scottish Schools

I want to congratulate Mike Russell, Scottish Education Secretary, on the implementation of the recent pilot regarding the use of tablet computers in Scottish schools. The actual pilot scheme covers 10 local authorities, and almost 20 schools.

Mr Russell, Scottish Education Secretary, said: "The range of mobile devices that are now available and the promise of what they can bring to teaching and learning is very exciting and something that must be embraced." (source)

Scotland has a fine education tradition, and although always struggling for finance, and undergoing many changes in recent years, Scotland still has an enviable education system. If we want to maintain this, and improve it, and ensure that every child that goes through the education system in Scotland, has the very best education and opportunities for learning, then we have to step up a gear and speed up the process of getting modern, and sufficient, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) not only in schools, but to every child in our schools.

A tablet computer shouldn't be seen as a luxury for a child. It should be seen as an essential component of their education from the time they enter the school gates for the first time, to when they wave goodbye when they attain an age to leave and go in to the workforce, or on to college, or university.

A child should be handed a tablet on their first day at school, to be their constant companion, for their sole use, during the course of the school day, and for further learning and homework when out of school. That tablet computer, in effect, carries, via its connection to the world wide web, the knowledge of the world accessible to the fingertips of the child. It should remain in the care of that child till that child leaves school.

I have heard a few murmurs of discontent about the cost of such measures, the distractions a child may have using them, for gaming instead of learning, or accessing parts of the internet unhealthy for the viewing of children. These, although important and serious issues, are simply distractions from the positives, and there are countless measures available, both through ISPs, and through safe surfing software to eliminate much of the perceived dangers.

The fact is, in everyday working life, computers and communication are vitally important. If Scotland as a country wants to grow and compete with other nations, an intelligent well educated workforce is a must. This importance is more evident with every passing year, and to have a fit and capable workforce for the future, we cannot have children leaving school ICT illiterate, or poorly trained in the use of such because of poor equipment and lack of modern facilities.

"Across Scotland’s state schools the average pupil to computer ratio is 3.2 to 1. A quarter of our pupils attend schools run by authorities whose pupil to computer ratio hovers around 5 to1.
In the lives of most professionals, the person to computer ratio is easily 1 to 2; a laptop and a smartphone are part of the uniform of business in 2011. Add in a tablet or a desktop computer and it’s more like three computers per person.
One computer between three in schools and yet there are three computers per person in business; something’s wrong with this picture." says Fraser Speirs, Head of Computing and IT at Cedars School of Excellence. (source)

Cost, of course, is always the part of the equation that is like the elephant in the room. Cost though, can't just be measured in the purchase price of such equipment. The future cost to the nation could be in the balance, one way or the other, depending on how you look at initial costs, and costs over time, and ultimately, the benefit costs to the country and the economy, when eventually the initial investment is realised by having a well educated workforce, leading the country to prosperity in a wide range of business ventures, and invention, and innovation.

As for the initial cost of equipment, great saving can be made by staying away from popular and expensive tablets that tie a buyer into closed source systems and cost ever more for updates and add-ons as time goes on. There are many open source solutions, that not only use free and widely available software, but allow teachers and pupils to innovate, improve, and advance applications to suit their particular needs. Using these types of solutions entail only a one-off cost of the actual hardware. No repeated software licences to renew, or locked-in software to purchase for possibly every conceivable subject required.

One example of a country showing great faith in the education of their children is Australia, where they have announced:

One Laptop per Child Australia (OLPC Australia) announced today that the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has committed $11.7 million to fund expansion of the OLPC program throughout Australia. Government funding will enable the delivery of more than 50,000 XO laptops along with associated training, software development, and support for teachers, primary school children, and their communities.

"With this funding support of One Laptop per Child in Australia, the Australian government has demonstrated its commitment to delivering a modern education to all children in Australia," said Rodrigo Arboleda, Chairman and CEO of the One Laptop per Child Association. "Access to a modern education is critical to empowering individuals to build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities." (source)

As a poorly constructed example, using as a base the figures above, and converting to GBP at today's rate, I would make this to cost approximately £150 per pupil. If every child entering primary school on the next intake, approximating, 30,000, was given a tablet at this cost (bear in mind the cost is inclusive of teacher training and support), the full cost would be approximately £4.5m for those 30,000 pupils. Cost off sets could be made though, one example, by purchasing eBooks that the child can access via eBook reader software on the device, saving the repeated purchase of expensive paper text books. Another saving by cutting down on the redundant IT equipment no longer needed, as every pupil would have the device required already at hand. Whatever the cost a school pays for text books per pupil over the course of that child's time at that school, I have no idea, but if it is around £150, then already the cost of the tablet to the school is nil or insignificant. Add on the savings of kitting out a classroom of desktop computers that would now be mostly redundant, and already the purchase price has been paid, and money savings are apparent.

Of course, that is an over-simplified example, just put forward as a thought, that although it may seem an uneconomical extravagance to suggest giving each new intake, annually, of school children, a device that will stay with them during the full period of time they attend school. Ultimately, the actual cost may be negligible, and in the long run, savings could even be made. What is not in doubt, is that every child in Scotland deserves the best education available, and to compete and thrive as a country in the 21st century, we have to ensure our children have the best learning tools available to them.

I hope this pilot scheme of Mike Russell's is a success, and money will be found to roll this type of initiative out over the whole of Scotland, so every school, and every pupil in Scotland, has access to the very best in ICT, and the very best learning devices at hand.

Some interesting links:

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Wind of Change - The Interconnectedness of Everything

People in Scotland complain about the weather a great deal, the sun never shines enough, it's always raining, it's bloody cold. Another complaint I hear about a lot is the wind, it's either blowing a gale, or there's no wind at all, and this last complaint is normally made from the ever decreasing Luddites that seem to constantly moan about wind farms (as a small aside, these wind turbines don't have to spin like the propellers on aircraft to produce electricity, they have a gearing system, so a gentle rotation spins enough to step up the speed of the shaft that actually rotates within the generator to produce the electricity).

Wind turbines, you either love them or you hate them. The good news is they are here to stay, the even better news is, with Scotland having 25% of Europe's wind capacity, Scotland is in an excellent geographical position to take advantage of this green energy.

It is estimated that 11.5 GW of onshore wind potential exists, enough to provide 45 TWh of energy. More than double this amount exists on offshore sites where mean wind speeds are greater than on land. The total offshore potential is estimated at 25 GW, and although more expensive to install could be enough to provide almost half the total energy used in Scotland.
According to a recent report, the world's wind market offers many opportunities for Scottish companies, with total global revenue over the next five years estimated at £35 billion and continued growth forecast until at least 2025 (source)
So, let's just accept that with that kind of green renewable energy creation ability, these wind turbines are here to stay, at least for a while. As technology improves, and more of these wind turbines will be situated off-shore, we may see a decreasing instance of the NIMBY effect. But, let's face it, would you want to look out of your kitchen window and see a wind turbine, or a nuclear reactor, or a dirty old coal-fed power station?

Scotland though, doesn't just have the wind to rely on to power the collective kettles of the nation. Hydro electricity generation provides 6% of the nation's power, and is another segment of the market that is in expanding mode. (source)
Also, making minor contributions to date, but planning much more as development progresses, are the innovations in wave and tidal power generation.

"Scotland achieved a major milestone this week by successfully installing a 10MW tidal power array in the Sound of Islay, off the coast of Orkney." (source)

One of our close neighbours, Norway, also has vast renewable energy resources.

"Norway ought to have access to up to 40 terrawatt hours of renewable energy in 2020-2025, of which about half would come from offshore wind power." (source)

So, imagine the scenario, the wind has stopped blowing, the Scottish turbines are relaxing sedately in stationary mode, but just a wee bit across the North Sea, the turbines in Norway are in a whizzing tizzy. The next day, the situation is reversed, Scottish turbines are in a spin, while in Norway, they are having a relaxing break.

Ah! What about running a cable under the sea, connect the two nations, share the wind between them, share the hydro, what a best of two world's solution, interconnection!

Just this week, Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister has been on a visit to Norway. He said: "From world-leading offshore wind, marine and hydro energy in the north of Europe, to massive solar power in the south, we have huge natural renewable resources, which must be harnessed in the most efficient way to deliver benefits for all the continent's citizens. The NorthConnect project is an excellent example of the kind of grid interconnection that will be needed across the continent to ensure we maximise the contribution of all European nations to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, increase energy security and meet targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy generation." 

Odd Ygarden, Chairman of NorthConnect, added: "NorthConnect welcomes the support which the First Minister and the Scottish Government is giving to the project. We see a future with huge levels of wind based generation of electricity in the UK and the North Sea. The level of this electricity production will have fluctuations. NorthConnect connecting the Nordic hydro-based electricity production with this wind generation will create a unique renewable quality in security of supply in the European electricity market." (source)

The cable is in the pipeline, so to speak (pun intended), and a company called NorthConnect, with five partners, including Scottish and Southern Energy, is planning on linking Scotland and Norway with a 1,400 MegaWatt connector approximately 570km in length. The project is hoped to be completed before 2020.

So, perhaps you may look out the window around 2020, and see the wind turbine on the horizon in a lackadaisical state of inactivity, but yet, as you plug in the kettle, the wee light glows to show that heating of the water within is under progress, and shortly that craved caffeine break of Columbian coffee will soon be ready. You may wonder at the interconnectedness of everything, yet it is only down to the commonsense approach of two nations, taking advantage of each others resources in green renewable energy, to the benefit of both.

Ah, doesn't that coffee taste good!

 For those looking for information regarding the energy acronyms used

Sunday, 13 May 2012

You Will Be Assimilated: Scottish Labour, the Tories, and the Borg.

Is it a case of vote Labour, get Tory, or is it more a case of, vote Labour, become Tory? It certainly seems to be the case, that to vote Labour, you no longer get Labour, or what any self-respecting and upstanding member of the old guard, of the traditional Labour party, would expect of a party with Labour in the name.

It must be quite unsettling to be a life long Labour voter in Scotland in this day and age. Especially if you're old enough to remember the Thatcher era in Scotland. From the wholesale destruction of heavy industry, the decimation of coal mining, and the imposition of the hated poll tax. To have voted most loyally for the party that you believe is the most anti-Tory in Scotland, yet to find that your party of preference is forging alliances up and down the country with that very same Tory party, which was responsible for so much suffering and misery, in the communities across Scotland, in the recent past - It must feel like a betrayal.

"With the number of alliances between Labour and Tory increasing across Scotland’s local authorities, there are fears that Conservative influence may be exaggerated despite the party suffering a drop in voter support." (Source)

Can it really be true, surely not, how can such hated enemies, with such vastly contradicting policies, be getting under the duvet together and touching toes, surely such a coupling can bring no good? Can anything of benefit come of this unholy alliance for the Labour voter?

Well, says Johann Lamont: "'Free' university education in Scotland is holding back youngsters."

"Alex Salmond’s flagship policy of a ‘free’ university education for all Scottish students is holding back some of the country’s most talented youngsters, the Labour leader will argue today." (Source)

"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." - Er no, that last quote wasn't Lamont, it just springs to mind whenever I hear her speak. It was actually Abraham Lincoln who said that.

Already the spawning of illegitimate profferings are being condescendingly put forth. The Borg work in mysterious ways

I suppose in my scepticism, I may not see, but there may be an abundance of justifiable reasons, why so many Labour activists campaigned so vigorously against Tory policies, yet so soon after the local election results, are now becoming Best Friends Forever with their so recently hated Tory adversaries. Forgive me if I cannot think of any at the moment (A thought just struck me: perhaps the grassroots Labour activists weren't enlightened, about the new regard the leadership of the party now has for the Tories - could they have been as hoodwinked as the actual voters? - Well, as the saying goes, 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me').

"Rather than let the SNP into power locally, Labour are doing deals with the Tories who they vowed to protect voters from during the election." (Source)

There are communities North and South, East and West, in Scotland today, that have still not recovered from the last time the Tories had the power to sharpen an axe here, and wield it so mercilessly in hacking at the social fabric and industrial well-being of a country of people they had no regard for.
The apparent rush of Scottish Labour to assimilate with the Tories in so many areas of Scotland though, should not be such a surprise. It is not about voters, it is not about local services, it is not about the improvement in the lives of everyday people. It is only about the self-preservation of the so-called elite, of a once great party, against what they see is a greater threat.

"Labour's opposition to Westminster austerity cuts has been questioned after the party agreed several more formal coalitions with the Tory party in councils across Scotland. The Labour-Tory pacts have moved the SNP to argue that Labour is not committed to progressive politics." (Source)

It seems there is only one hymn sheet in Scottish politics at the moment, that is the 'Do Down the SNP at any Cost Hymn Sheet' and so it has to be shared by the Tories, Labour, and the Lib-Dems (at the cost of photo-copying the New Tory Policy for all, perhaps the remaining Lib-Dems can share a copy).

So, Lamont is already proposing a Clegg with regard to charging future Scottish students £9,000 a year for an education. How far are Scottish Labour going to go down this road? How long before she is proposing Tory English NHS policy in Scotland? How long before Johann and Ruth are chairing combined brain-storming sessions on how to best put the latest round of Westminster austerity cuts in a positive light? (Does 'we're all in this together' mean sharing future branch meetings, now that's an efficient way to save resources!).

Perhaps there is some hidden agenda I am not aware of here: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" - Sun Tzu. But, doesn't that mean watch your enemy, not capitulate and agree with them?

"Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile." - Borg

"You will be assimilated." - Borg

There is something vaguely familiar here. David Cameron must be rubbing his hands with glee at this moment in time, any thought he may have had that Labour in Scotland may have been a threat to the Tory agenda must be falling to the wayside.

"I'm going to be as radical a social reformer as Mrs Thatcher was an economic reformer..." - David Cameron (source)

"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile." - Borg (Source)

It doesn't have to be death or assimilation. There is another way. Spring away from a party that has lost its way, and start a new and fresh, and untainted party, with all the positive aspects the Labour party once had, but without the tarnished name and connections...

We Are Borg:

Sunday, 6 May 2012

An Independent Television Channel

It is about time that the SNP, preferably along with the help and support of other Pro Independence parties and groups in Scotland, set up a Freeview TV channel, to air the truth and the positive side of the arguments, regarding the issues of an Independent Scotland, to the wider general public.

It is apparent that the SNP and other Pro Independence parties in Scotland, will never get any fair and unbiased attention from the majority of the UK mass media, and especially not from the BBC, and BBC Scotland in particular. They clearly have no intention of showing any impartiality in any aspect of the debate regarding the referendum and the Independence issue. The people in Scotland deserve more, and it is clear that the fair and balanced information and knowledge, that they should have access to as a matter of course in a democratic society, will never happen with the BBC and the majority of the UK mass media.

Not everyone has access to the internet, even in this day and age. A great number of people still receive their daily quota of news from a national newspaper or the television. Unfortunately, most of this media is not always as honest and forthright, at putting across the views of people or groups, that it has no interest in serving. The full story, the other side of the story, the debate from the other side, are all missing. They mostly provide a one-dimensional view that agrees with their standpoint, or portrays only the views and opinions that they are directed to express.

An Independent television channel would provide balanced, topical, and above all, truthful news, to a wider range of the population, it could also become a debating forum by way of viewer participation programmes, and it could be a catalyst for new exciting information and imagery about the wealth of talent and art, innovation and invention, that is abundant in Scotland today, and which could prosper to ever new heights given the support that an Independent Scotland could provide.

It could start initially as an internet channel, spreading to Freeview over a period of time as funds are secured and advertising deals set up. It could start small, a few hours a day, expanding as finance permits. There are a wealth of Scottish interest programmes that could probably be bought cheaply as fillers that could stimulate and interest new viewers to the channel. These interspersed with viewer participation debating programmes, interviews with Scottish Parliamentarians (of all sides), plus invites to business and church leaders, Scottish celebrities, pop and rock stars, etc, could create a channel that has appeal to a broad spectrum of the population, from the very young to the old, the politically active, to raising awareness to the politically indifferent.

Topical news and stories transmitted on this channel would possibly also be picked up and repeated across the spectrum of mass media out with the UK, there would be nothing the BBC or UK unionist printed press could do about this. Original popular programmes and documentaries commissioned may be suitable to be sold on to help with the revenue stream. A campaign asking for donations to raise funds to assist in the set up of such a channel, I believe, would meet with success and have a good response in the way of raising financial assistance, and general support, by a large section of the community of Scotland. Surely it is not by reason of cost that something like this has not been done. If it is the cost, then what would the cost be for such a project? Can we afford not to pursue this type of venture?

To me, an Independent Freeview TV channel would be a win-win. Can we expect fair balanced reporting, on serious issues regarding Scotland, and especially the Independence referendum, by any other means?