Educational psychologists have long known that people learn more through activity than passive absorption of information. Teaching methods in recent years have therefore emphasised project work and group tasks. The availability of relatively cheap multi-media machines fits in well with current thinking on education and training. The Department of Education has in the past few weeks embarked on a pilot project to test the effectiveness of various multi-media approaches at selected schools.
However, the distinction between a pilot project and a token project is a fine one. The one-year pilot has only a £0.5 million budget with no brief to develop new materials. The Government has not yet commissioned any large-scale research to develop the technology.
Foot dragging will undoubtedly delay the introduction of the technology to schools and colleges. More worrying is that because of a lack of cohesion between the state and private sector Britain gain risks losing an opportunity to take a lead in what will undoubtedly become a strategically important technology.
Multi-media is not just an educational aid: it is more a means to represent vast amounts of information clearly, simply and intuitively. As such it enables anyone to carry out a wide variety of complex computing tasks without having to think too hard.
In 10 years' time there will not be computers: there will be machines with which people manipulate information with ease. The processing of video, sound, graphics, pictures and text will therefore be key to all software development in the future.
Some of the pioneering work in this field is being carried out by small British companies. Without a strong market for their products and without sufficient government support for research the firms will probably stay small and be overtaken by foreign rivals. A national multi-media research initiative would underpin a blossoming industry and equip young engineers with skills that will be crucial for the next phase of the revolution in computing.
(Pallab Ghosh is a science and technology writer.)