Rolling down the Information Superhighway
Helsinki wants to play a pioneering role in giving a generation that still has years sitting at school desks ahead of it a first push down the Information Superhighway. By the time a mammoth project now in progress reaches its conclusion in 2001, all of the 185 schools in the city will be online, with one computer for every six children.
Achievement of that goal is not far off, because 140 of the schools were already connected at the end of 1998. As soon as a new school joins the network, every teacher and pupil there is given a personal e-mail address, of which there were 40,000 at the end of 1998, and the total will be 70,000 by the beginning of 2002. "It's one of the biggest network totalities in Europe," say Riitta Karvinen, a project planner with the Educational Department.
Pupils can use computers and surf the Internet free of charge. The Internet is accessed from the city's schools over 1.5 million times a day and e-mail is intensively used. "It has been scientifically proved that using computers improves learning results. Pupils learn better and are more motivated to study. It is not a particularly big problem if they use the Internet for other purposes besides obtaining the information they need in their studies. In fact, it is an advantage when information technology gradually becomes a tool that one automatically uses both in studies and at work," says Karvinen.
By the time Helsinki children start school (at 7) most of them already have a good grounding in information technology and know how to use the Internet. Teachers, for their part, are better at using practical programmes like those for word processing. Their command of information technology is strengthened during a ten-day intensive training course.
The project also involves developing a new network school, of which a demonstration version already exists. Karvinen says it will very soon have become part of everyday life in the schools, offering easy access to various databases and archive services. It will also make it possible to bring special courses to schools that lack the resources to arrange them themselves. Through the network school, pupils will be able to benefit from courses with a bearing on further teaching programmes at their own schools. They will also be able to take part in projects arranged by schools in other countries.