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An historical background of IT in Mathematics education - an overview

The term information communications technology (ICT) expanded from information technology (IT), and was introduced into education by Lord Stevenson (1997) to take into account the use of the internet and email, which was just beginning to be available to schools. In this sense it combines computing with telecommunications and broadcasting and would include products that can deal with information in an electronic form thus calculators, television and telephones as well as computers should be included.

The first curriculum access was in about 1980, when schools were given computers through their Local Education Authorities (LEA) through a government initiative. The secondary school where I was working at the time had one Research Machines RML 380z which had a Z80 microprocessor with 8 KB of user RAM. The display was monochrome. Programs were loaded via a tape recorder and the cost was just under £1000. Programs were limited, chiefly spreadsheets (such as Grasshopper from Newman College) or word processing with output to a dot matrix printer. In many secondary schools it was placed in the mathematics or science department. Personal computers at this time included the Sinclair ZX81 (based on the Z80 processor) with 1K of memory, it had no colour, output was to a TV (which had to be retuned) and was loaded via a tape recorder. There was very little software, most owners being interested in developing games routines using BASIC code, often teaching themselves from a book. The RM Link 480z, which had an optional single or double disc drive and 56k of memory, superseded the 380z. It also came with a colour monitor and it was now possible to create a network. However, software was still limited but it was possible to word process, form a spreadsheet or a database. In 1982, under a scheme from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) (Govier, 1997), primary schools were offered half price computers. Many schools opted for the BBC B machines at this time rather than the Research Machines models Moore, (1986). To distinguish them from the huge mainframes they were called microcomputers. The introduction of microcomputers into a school depended very much on the attitude of the head teacher, for example: wanting to be at the forefront of IT development had a personal interest, received encouragement and support from staff, governors and parents. Unbeknown to many teachers, the purpose of the offer was to boost the computer industry and not to stimulate new approaches to learning, hence the lack of funding for educational software development. The LEA often purchased the machines and then gave them to schools. Frequently these had colour monitors with loading via cassette, rather than monochrome monitors and disc loading. This caused great frustration for teachers as loading was unreliable and took several minutes and damage frequently happened to the tapes. Software was not freely available commercially at this time, being often written by enthusiasts and distributed within their local area. In association with the DTI initiative, the Department of Education and Science subsequently set up the Microelectronics Program (MEP) (which ran to 1986) to support schools with hardware purchases, software development and training. As part of the agreement, two teachers were to be trained and it was expected that they would ‘cascade’ to the rest of the staff. This was not effective as the course covered much of the technicalities of having a computer and little on how to use it effectively for teaching and learning. There was a supposition that any person receiving the training was confident enough to teach their colleagues. This was a poor introduction to the use of computers and put many teachers off developing IT skills further.

The programs were cheap but centred on teaching limited skills, such as finding rhinos on a grid rather than tools such as word processors, databases and paint programs that are now common in schools. One of the first pieces of mathematics software was Logo developed by Papert (1980) in the United States of America. Training in using Logo was not offered to all teachers so tended to be primarily adopted by teachers who were interested in using computers within their lessons. At this time this was frequently one machine per class which arrived on a trolley before being given to another class the following lesson.

In the next stage, in 1985, schools were financially supported to move towards getting newer machines. Many schools opted for the BBC B/Master, the Acorn Archimedes or the RM Nimbus series. The area where I was working chose the Nimbus 186 model. This had to be supplied with the operating system, via a three inch floppy disc, before programs could be loaded. The computers were often still wheeled from one room to another, as yet there was no whole class facility in many schools. (Harris & Preston, 1993 p.25, p.32)


Software houses produced more curriculum software for these machines and they could be linked to a colour printer. First software included programs for word processors, databases, adventures and simulations and creative software which might be used in art or music. Secondary schools were more likely to use spreadsheets and desktop publishing. Subject software also appeared about this time, for example the Association of Teachers of Mathematics produced ‘Some lessons in Mathematics with a Microcomputer’ (1985) as part of the MIME project (Microcomputers in Mathematical Education). SMILE Mathematics produced software for use in mathematics classes for 30 years to 2006. Peripherals were also becoming available such as concept keyboards, control boxes which could be used with Logo and Logo turtles (or roamer). At this time it was felt that there was more excitement amongst male teachers (certainly in primary schools) who were able to experiment with the new technology and learn how to introduce it into their teaching (Govier 1997).

The next big event was the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, and after the Dearing review (1994) IT became a subject in its own right. Harris and Preston (1993) show some interesting figures on IT expenditure from the schools own budgets in both primary and secondary schools at that time.

  1991-1992 1992-1993
  Min (£) Max (£) Median(£) Min (£) Max (£) Median(£)
Primary 20 12,000 300 20 10,000 300
Secondary 1 80,000 2,500 40 90,000 3,000


The large amounts (i.e. in excess of £2000 primary and £20,000 secondary) represent about 5% of each group. At the lower end about 20% of primary were under £100 and 17% of secondary schools were under £500. At this time there were also other funding streams (such as LEA and GEST) to assist in the purchase of hardware and software.


Support for teachers, whether technical or training, usually fell to the school’s IT coordinator (Harris & Preston, 1993 pp. 5-6), frequently this person was also in charge of mathematics or science. Support for schools was also given by the Local Education Authority (LEA). The professional development model was often to train the IT coordinator, in the first instance, who was then responsible for ‘cascading’ to the rest of the staff. LEAs would also provide after school sessions for those who wanted them. These people would now be, at least, in their mid forties. The enthusiasm of the head teacher, the deputy and the IT coordinator would have some impact on how other staff would respond to the new technology.


The Stevenson report in 1997 stated that while, as a country, we had many PCs in schools "it is not clear that IT has made a significant impact on educational standards". It was recognised that developments in hardware and software were offering greater facilities for teaching and learning and could be used as an information source for pupils as well as an instrument for producing work. Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) became available to help develop language and number skills at an individual pupil level such as Research Machine’s Successmaker (which had its roots in the American educational system and was re-worked for the UK market). By this time the internet was more widely available and it was suggested that the internet could be used by teachers for support, training and communicating. The report introduced the word ‘communications’ so that now IT was to be called information, communications technology (ICT). Training was still very patchy and it was frequently those who were keen on the concept of using ICT in lessons who were prepared to devote some of their own time to learn how to use the hardware and software who were using it.

Stevenson recommended several initiatives to remedy this lack of impact. The idea was to remove barriers to learning and access. These initiatives included setting up the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) in 1997, with £200m coming from the National Opportunities Fund (NOF) for training teachers and Computers for Teachers scheme to help them buy their own computer. This scheme was not open to all teachers, as there were qualifying rules and only a limited number of teachers could apply from any one school. There were other initiatives included those which enabled more rural schools to connect to the internet, access to which was still mainly in urban areas and via telephone lines.

In May 1999 David Blunket, (the then Secretary of State for Education), announced proposed changes to the National Curriculum for England for implementation from 2000. In this document IT was renamed ICT to take into account the growing significance of communications technology, including email, internet access and video conferencing. This suggested that the subject was to be much broader than just computing and included new elements such as broadcasting, and telecommunications. The intention was that the division between IT and ICT should be clarified by this action. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (1999) stated that:

The new curriculum for ICT proposes that information is at the heart of students’ study, of IT skills, knowledge and understanding. This new focus suggests that students might start with using IT to find things out, develop their ideas and make things happen. ..... The result should be more emphasis on IT as a tool for learning, rather than merely using applications.

IT and ICT in the National Curriculum, QCA Newsletter, Issue 2, May 1999


The 2000 National Curriculum also stated that ICT should be embedded into the whole curriculum with the emphasis on it being used as a tool and being able to use ICT at home and work then and in the future. The document also stated that ICT promotes initiative and independent learning with students finding, exploring, analysing and presenting information. Teachers who had qualified before May 1999 received NOF training, between 1999 and 2003, but one of the findings of the MirandaNet’s evaluation team was that the providers and policy makers had not realised that many participants did not know enough about computers to follow suggestions about classroom use.


In spite of this, discussions with a variety of people are suggesting that there is not a widely accepted definition of the term information communications technology. If the term is taken literally, in its broadest sense, one could argue that writing implements such as pens (a technological development) which are used to communicate information should be included. Before the advent of electronic systems these would have been the manner for communicating at an individual level. In the broadest sense anything from the advent of communicating using instruments such as those found in the seventh century to produce illustrated manuscripts, i.e. pre-Gutenberg’s printing press (in around 1440), onwards would fit the definition. At the time of their development they would have been (in current terminology) ‘new technology’.

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