Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech on microcomputers in schools

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Unknown
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Marked "Please check against delivery".
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 798
Themes: Education, Secondary education, Industry, Science & technology

Our future prosperity depends in large part on the quality of education today. That quality requires not only that children should learn the familiar basic subjects but that they should also be able to understand computers and how they can be used and applied. We must remember that today's school children will still be working in the year 2030. The things we can buy and how they are produced will have changed and changed again in that period. Those now at school will need to adapt to each new technological advance if we are to remain an industrial power and to create new products and jobs in the service-based industries. A nation that can achieve as many engineering triumphs or produce as many Nobel prize-winners as we do should be able to become a spectacular industrial and commercial success. [end p1]

My generation has perhaps been too cautious about accepting new technology in micros. Microelectronics and its widespread application is something from which we have profited without seeking to apply it sufficiently. This is certainly not true. Younger people are quick to use new things and have an aptitude for them. Schoolchildren now take for granted electronic games and toys and the ubiquitous calculator. They find buttons and television screens an exciting way of playing and learning. This familiarity with keyboards and TV screens will help them to take in their stride the new technologies on the shop floor, in the office and in the home.

What can computers do for children?

You have only to look and see how the young people here today are using them. [end p2]

The computer is each pupil's own personal teacher—a teacher with infinite patience which can work at his own pace. For children all this is fun—but it also has true educational value. Children learn to question, command and understand this powerful tool. Of course, learning about science and maths is easier but the computer is just as much at home in the school workshop and in providing information about history and geography.

Through the computer children can learn to work and argue logically and to use not just the pen and paper but the new media which are already playing such an important part in their lives.

Is this just for very bright children? Certainly not. Already there are many examples of slower learners whose progress has leapt ahead by the use of computers. [end p3]

The significance of microcomputers in schools goes beyond their use as devices to aid teaching and learning, important though that may be. Children also need to discover how, and how far, these tools can help material progress and living standards. They will best discover this if they have the opportunity to use these devices for themselves.

Computers are a valuable aid for the teacher. But first teachers have to learn how best to use them. Many do not have the same flying start as their pupils. When most of them were at school, the computer was hardly invented, let alone regarded as a piece of school equipment. But for teachers too the new devices are a challenge. [end p4]

The Education Departments' Microelectronics Education Programmes whose three-year strategy is published today will develop effective ways of giving both pupils and teachers direct experience of microcomputers.

Today the Government is taking a further step. I am particularly pleased to announce and endorse the Department of Industry scheme “Micros in Schools” . Its aim is to put a microcomputer into every secondary school in the country by the end of 1982. Cash will be made available to local education authorities and schools on a pound for pound basis to buy either the 380Z Research Machine or the Acorn, both British microcomputers. I hope that parent teacher associations will support the schools that use the scheme. I also hope that local business will be involved in this campaign and I know that members of the British Computer Society will help. [end p5]

I will ask Kenneth Baker, Neil Macfarlane and Alex Fletcher to give you more details of the ‘Micros in Schools’ scheme and of the Microelectronics in Education Programme in a moment.

The implications of what is called the information technology revolution are very much in my mind as I announce this scheme. Indeed I see this scheme as part of the wider attention we are giving to Information Technology in order to increase in Britain an awareness and appreciation of the new businesses, new products, new services and new jobs which Information Technology offers. Without this understanding by all of us Britain will be unable to make the most of the opportunities for growth and new jobs which IT will increasingly provide. [end p6]

The ‘Micros in Schools’ scheme is an important first step in the Government's Information Technology programme. But it is just a step and I stress that we are pressing on with other plans in the public and private sectors to generate awareness and stimulate applications of information technology.