Microelectronics Education Programme

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The UK Government's Microelectronics Education Programme ran from 1980 to 1986. It was conceived and planned by a Labour government and set up under a Conservative government during Mrs Thatcher's era. Its aim was to explore how computers could be used in schools in the UK. This was a controversial time for Conservative school policies.[1]

The programme was administered by the Council for Educational Technology in London, but the directorate operated, unusually, from a semi-detached house on the Coach Lane Campus of the then Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University).

The director of the programme was Richard Fothergill, a man of vision and passion for the concept of bringing computers to schools. He was supported by a deputy director, a specialist in control technology and a cross curriculum specialist. All were teachers. The information collection and dissemination was carried out by an information officer who used an early form of Teletext (called Prestel) and email (called Telecom Gold) to disseminate news of materials and training opportunities. Each member of staff created correspondence on a handheld wordprocessor, a Microwriter, designed by Cy Endfield.

Educational materials were initially devised by teachers for teachers, financed by the Department of Education and Science of England, Northern Ireland and Wales. It was common to see written on various books and leaflets that the aims of the programme were to 'promote, within the school curriculum, the study of microelectronics and its effects, and to encourage the use of the technology as an aid to teaching and learning'.

By 1982, the Department of Trade and Industry became involved and began to introduce computers in the secondary schools, later the primary schools. Teams of teachers, programmers and publishers worked hard to develop software to run on a variety of machines. The two most popular were Acorn Computers and Research Machines computers. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was used in a variety of situations, very often for control projects, such as teaching children how traffic lights worked.

14 Regional Information Centres were set up around the UK to demonstrate materials to local teachers. There was one information officer, one director and a number of training coordinators per region. The focus for the training was split into four 'domains': - the Computer as a Device (exploring and developing Computer Science as a subject); Communications and Information Systems (looking at the electronic office and developing a Business Studies theme); Electronics and Control Technology (developing devices and resources to support Science and Technology subjects); and Computer Based Learning (looking and developing how uses of technology could support teaching and learning right through and across the whole curriculum).

Originally conceived as a programme to develop secondary education, it was soon perceived that many primary schools were ready to adopt new methodologies. A National Primary Project was established, which developed a substantial amount of high class resources that were the basis for significant curriculum development.

Whilst the programme was running it attracted world attention and was highly commended.

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